In their astronomical role a radio telescope differs from optical telescopes in that they operate in the radio frequency potion of the electromagnetic spectrum where they can detect and collect data on radio sources.
Essentially it is a form of directional radio antenna and is frequently used in radio astronomy and for tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes.
These telescopes are typically large dish antennas used singularly or in an array with several telescopes pointed in the same direction. Radio observatories are located far from major centers of population so that they can avoid electromagnetic interference from regular radios, televisions radar and other electromagnetic emitting devices.
This is similar to the locating of optical telescopes to avoid light pollution. However the different is that radio observatories will generally be place in valleys to further shield them from the electromagnetic interferences as opposed to clear air mountain tops where optical observatories are often located.
Many astronomical objects are not only observable in visible light, but they also emit radiation at radio wave lengths. Besides observing energetic objects like pulsars and quasars, radio telescopes are able to image most astronomical objects like galaxies, nebulae, and even radio emissions from planets.
Radio telescopes play an important role in the world as they are used to track information from satellites in space that give us important insights into what is happening not only in space but also in our world. They can find important weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms as well as show information about things like global warming and other trends.
The ordinary astronomer will not use this type of telescope in their astronomical quests. They are very large and look like huge satellite dishes. As we've said, they are not used to 'see' space objects but more to gather information through radio waves let off by various objects in the cosmos.
Amongst the largest radio telescopes in the World is in Pune, India, and is called the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope,the Arecibo radio telescope located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, whose 305 m (1,001 ft) dish is fixed in the ground,and the largest individual radio telescope of any kind, the RATAN-600 located near Nizhny Arkhyz, Russia, which consists of a 576-meter circle of rectangular radio reflectors, each of which can be pointed towards a central conical receiver
There is another enormous radio telescope that is currently being constructed in Europe and contains over 25,000 small antennas over an area that is several hundred kilometers in diameter.
Radio telescopes are a very important part of our world today and are essential as we continue to learn more and more about the world we live in as well as the world we don't.
The advancements that are being made make a difference in our lives and we really don't even know about it. But rest assured that these telescopes will continue to evolve and become more advanced providing us with even more information over the years.
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