radio and radar astronomy

radio and radar astronomy

Study of celestial bodies by measuring the energy they emit or reflect at radio wavelengths. It began in 1931 with Karl Jansky's discovery of radio waves from an extraterrestrial source. After 1945, huge dish antennas, improved receivers and data-processing methods, and radio interferometers let astronomers study fainter sources and obtain greater detail. Radio waves penetrate much of the gas and dust in space, giving a much clearer picture of the centre and structure of the Milky Way Galaxy than optical observation can. This has allowed detailed studies of the interstellar medium in the Galaxy and the discovery of previously unknown cosmic objects (e.g., pulsars, quasars). In radar astronomy, radio signals are sent to near-Earth bodies or phenomena (e.g., meteor trails, the Moon, asteroids, nearby planets) and the reflections detected, providing precise measurement of the objects' distances and surface structure. Because radar waves can penetrate even dense clouds, they have provided astronomers' only maps of the surface of Venus. Radio and radar studies of the Moon revealed its sandlike surface before landings were made. Radio observations have also contributed greatly to knowledge about the Sun. See also radio telescope.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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