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p. 394. Windows in the skylocked

  • Geoff Cottrell


The atmosphere influences much of what can be seen through a telescope. Most of the atmosphere lies within 16 km from the Earth’s surface. Further out, the air becomes thinner until it merges with outer space. In the ionosphere—a layer 75–1000 km high—neutral atoms are ionized by solar radiation and high-energy cosmic ray particles arriving from distant parts of the Universe. ‘Windows in the sky’ explains electromagnetic radiation and the electromagnetic spectrum from gamma rays through to visible light and radio waves. Electromagnetic waves are transverse waves that can be polarized. The atmosphere acts as a filter and blocks cosmic electromagnetic radiation. Atmospheric turbulence distorts starlight resulting in ‘twinkling’ stars.

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