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Through the Eyes of Telescopes

Part of Women In STEM Activities

Space is an amazing place! In previous themed weeks we have introduced you to stars, the solar system, astronauts and much more!

Did you know that many people study Space?

Dr Aurora Sicilia Aguilar who works at the University of Dundee is one such person. She is an astrophysicist (a·strow·fi·zuh·suhst). Astrophysics is a branch of astronomy where physics is used to understand the universe.

Aurora studies how stars and planets form. She uses special equipment called telescopes to help her do this. A telescope makes things that are far away appear nearer. The ones that Aurora uses are found in different places. Some are ground-based (stay on Earth) like the one pictured while others are in space. She can use these telescopes to look at baby stars and their surroundings. She can see how they form inside giant gas and dust clouds in our galaxy. She can explore how their surroundings may change the type of planetary systems that will appear around them.

Aurora's favourite type of observations are "spectra". These are not images of stars, but the rainbows that you can produce with the star light. A type of instrument that we can mount on telescopes, called a "spectroscope" helps to see the rainbows.

Make your own spectrum rainbow

Put a CD under a lamp and move it around. What do you see? Can you see a rainbow? The light from the lamp is splitting into all the colours of the rainbow.

The rainbows of starlight can tell us a lot of things, such as what stars are made of, and how they move in space. This information is useful to scientists. It helps determine things such as the way stars form and whether they have planets orbiting around them.

Become an astrophysicist

Now it is your turn to become an astrophysicist. You will get to see what astrophysicists can see through the eyes of different telescopes.

Before you do the activity, you will learn:

  • Why we need so many different telescopes?
  • Why some of them need to be in space?
  • What the images obtained by different telescopes tell us?

Now, read our What do we see through the eyes of different telescopes? worksheet to learn more.

You will now get to study images taken by different telescopes. The images are the same gas and dust cloud, which is called IC1396A and is located in the Cepheus constellation.

The images show what IC1396A looks like through the eyes of the visible-light telescopes (with the Large Area Imager and the CAFOS/2.2m telescope) based at Calar Alto Observatory in Spain and in two infrared colours with the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Telescope.

You can learn more about the Calar Alto Observatory and their work by checking out their web site at https://www.caha.es/

The cloud contains baby stars (called "protostars") that are being formed, surrounded by tiny disks where their planetary systems will be born as well (these are called "protoplanetary disks"). Baby stars or protostars are, like baby dogs and baby children, very active, and like blowing at the cloud where they are born, opening holes like the one you see in the centre of the image.

For primary pupils. Look at the different images taken with different telescopes in our Flip Through Chart Worksheet (PDF). Do you see differences and similarities between the images?


For secondary pupils. This is a game, use our Find The Stars Worksheet (PDF) images to try to identify the stars that you can see through different telescopes. The first image has four different young stars marked with green circles. Can you find them in the other images?

It is a very difficult game, because each image is showing you what is emitting in the region with a different temperature, or a different material. The answers can be found in the next page.


Good luck with your observations!

Find the Star worksheet Check out this 3D visualisation of the Orion Nebula from National Geographic. The fly through video uses images taken by different space telescopes like those from the flip through chart to create the visualisation. How amazing is that!?

Fly Through a Star-Studded Nebula In a New 3-D Visualization

This page is part of the Women In STEM Activities information.

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