Viewing the universe

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Viewing the universe

Marek Kukula discusses how the universe looks very different when viewed with different types of light.






Marek Kukula: Hi, I’m Marek Kukula, I’m Public Astronomer here at the Royal Observatory. As you can probably hear from the background noise, we’re in one of our space galleries, the Astronomy Explores gallery. And I want to tell you about one of my favourite exhibits here in the gallery. It’s an interactive exhibit. It’s a computer screen with a dial that you turn, and what it shows is the way the universe looks different when we look at it with different wavelengths of light.

Now, as an astronomer, that’s something that I’m used to doing all of the time, because you can’t really understand how the universe works without looking at all the different forms of radiation that objects in space give off. So with our eyes and with optical telescopes, we only see a tiny part of the spectrum, the visible colours that our eyes are sensitive to; so everything from indigo through to red.

But there are many, many more wavelengths of light beyond that out into the infrared and on through microwaves into the radio regime, and the other way we go to ultraviolet and then into X-rays and gamma rays. And all of these different forms of radiation tell us really interesting things about the physics of what’s going on in space.

And with this display, we can show you what those objects look like with different wavelengths of light. |So we can show you what the Galaxy, the Milky Way, looks like in the gamma ray part of the spectrum and also in radio; and we can show you what Saturn looks like in infrared and also in ultraviolet. And they’re very different from how they appear to our eyes.

So it’s a nice way to show members of the public what professional astronomers see every day.

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