Aug 17th: Telescopes That Tell Different Tales


Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Space Scoop: Telescopes That Tell Different Tales

Organization:365 Days Of Astronomy

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Description: Space scoop, news for children.

Story about Orion nebula

Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by — no one. We still need sponsors for many days in 2016, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at

This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Telescopes That Tell Different Tales

To see the Universe in all its glory, astronomers have to get creative. They combine multiple photos taken by different telescopes to make one colorful picture.

For example, in a particular beautiful picture of a star-forming region, the Chandra X-ray Space Telescope only captured part of the image. That part is 10 million degrees Celsius, which means that area is pouring out X-rays! Which is exactly what Chandra is built to see.

Though the gas there is super hot, you couldn’t fry an egg with it. The gas is so extremely thin and close to being a vacuum that the atoms there wouldn’t collide with your frying pan and wouldn’t transfer much of their heat to it.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to use the stove in the kitchen.

The photo is of NGC 281, an open cluster 9,500 light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. By the way, NGC stands for New General Catalog, a list of cool things in the night sky.

If you Google NGC 281 and click on the Wikipedia link there, you’ll see this particular photo at the bottom of the page. The photo is titled “Composite image of NGC 281” because it’s a composite of various different types of light.

Chandra’s part of the image is the purple parts of the photo.

Meanwhile, another space telescope called Spitzer saw things a bit differently when it observed the same cloud. It observed in the infrared, which is everything shown in that photo other than the purple bits!

But why don’t these two telescopes see the star-forming cloud in the same way? The answer lies in the type of light that the telescopes are designed to observe.

Our eyes can only see visible light. That’s why we call it, uh, visible light. But there are many other types of light that can be detected by special telescopes, such as infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray.

For example, the Spitzer Space Telescope detects infrared light. Spitzer is perfect for observing dusty star-forming regions. You see, infrared light can easily travel through the dust, letting us peer behind the curtain, so-to-speak.

The Chandra telescope, however, can’t see infrared light. Instead, Chandra can detect the X-ray light that’s given off by gas when it is heated to incredibly high temperatures by hot, young stars.

So, although the two telescopes tell a different tale about what they see, they’re both telling the truth!

Hey, Here’s A Cool Fact:
To carry this idea further, there are radio telescopes that show us what parts of the Universe are cooler, and radiate in the radio and microwave parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. And radio waves pass through dust even better than infrared light does.

Just as there are spectral lines in the visible light from stars & gas, the radio spectrum has spectral lines too. Information can be gleaned from the radio waves that can tell us what elements and even whole molecules, that the gas clouds are made of.

Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Astrosphere New Media. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at  This year we will celebrate more discoveries and stories from the universe. Join us and share your story. Until tomorrow! Goodbye!


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