Galaxy - Multi-wavelength Observation

Multi-wavelength Observation

See also: Observational astronomy

After galaxies external to the Milky Way were found to exist, initial observations were made mostly using visible light. The peak radiation of most stars lies here, so the observation of the stars that form galaxies has been a major component of optical astronomy. It is also a favorable portion of the spectrum for observing ionized H II regions, and for examining the distribution of dusty arms.

The dust present in the interstellar medium is opaque to visual light. It is more transparent to far-infrared, which can be used to observe the interior regions of giant molecular clouds and galactic cores in great detail. Infrared is also used to observe distant, red-shifted galaxies that were formed much earlier in the history of the Universe. Water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb a number of useful portions of the infrared spectrum, so high-altitude or space-based telescopes are used for infrared astronomy.

The first non-visual study of galaxies, particularly active galaxies, was made using radio frequencies. The atmosphere is nearly transparent to radio between 5 MHz and 30 GHz. (The ionosphere blocks signals below this range.) Large radio interferometers have been used to map the active jets emitted from active nuclei. Radio telescopes can also be used to observe neutral hydrogen (via 21 cm radiation), including, potentially, the non-ionized matter in the early Universe that later collapsed to form galaxies.

Ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes can observe highly energetic galactic phenomena. An ultraviolet flare was observed when a star in a distant galaxy was torn apart from the tidal forces of a black hole. The distribution of hot gas in galactic clusters can be mapped by X-rays. The existence of super-massive black holes at the cores of galaxies was confirmed through X-ray astronomy.

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