We are all familiar with regular telescopes, that use visible light and mirrors to reflect distant images, but the concept of radio telescopes is a little bit more difficult to grasp.
Radio telescopes pick up light, just like any other telescope, except this light is in the form of micro and radio waves and is therefore invisible to the naked eye. These telescopes essentially allow scientists to pick up signals that would otherwise be undetectable.
Using a radio telescope, astronomers can also penetrate areas of outer space that are shrouded by clouds of dust and gas. This cosmic debris would block the view of a conventional telescope. Radio telescopes allowed for the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which is an important component of the Big Bang Theory.
The largest radio telescope array in the world began collecting data this week. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), located in Chile, is a joint effort by astronomers from four continents. It is comprised of 54 satellite dishes that are each 12-meters across and 12 smaller dishes (7 meters) that all work together to scan the cosmos. The array, located 5,000 meters above sea level in the Atacama Desert, is the product of three decades of planning, and took 10 years to construct, costing a total of $1.3 billion.Read More