Glossary term: Radio Telescope

Description: Radio telescopes receive radio waves from space. Depending on the observing wavelength they may have a parabola shape, similar to a satellite dish with a receiver at the focal point, or may have metal rod-like figures sometimes referred to as dipole antennas. The signals are then amplified and processed by computer. A radio telescope can be a single dish or a number of antennas linked together to form an interferometer where a special computer called a correlator combines signals from the different radio telescopes to yield information that can then be processed into an image. They mostly observe radio waves, with frequencies ranging from about 30 megahertz to 300 gigahertz, or 10 meters to 1 millimeter in wavelength. Individual telescopes and receivers are optimized for specific regions within this band. Some radio dishes are optimized to observe light with slightly shorter wavelength in a region of the electromagnetic spectrum known as the submillimeter.

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Panorama of the Parks Radio Telescope with blue sky and few thin clouds. The telescope looks like a giant satellite dish.

Parkes Radio Telescope

Caption: The 64m Radio Telescope at Parkes Observatory (New South Wales, Australia) is fully operantional since 1963 and continuously upgraded since. Also called "The Dish", it is run by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The telescope can be pointed at a part of the sky. The radio waves from this part of the sky are then reflected and focussed by the giant dish to a receiver at the focal point. The data from this receiver can then be analysed by astronomers.
Credit: David McClenaghan/CSIRO credit link

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