Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What is Refraction?

Galileo’s instrument, like all of the earliest telescopes, was a refracting telescope, which uses a glass lens to focus the incoming light. For all practical purposes, astronomical objects are so far away from us that we can consider that light rays come to us parallel to one another—that is, unfocused. Refraction is the bending of these parallel rays. The convex (bowed outward) piece of glass we call a lens bends the incoming rays such that they all converge at a point called the focus, which is behind the lens directly along its axis. The distance from the cross-sectional center of the lens to the focus is called the focal length of the lens. Positioned behind the focus is the eyepiece lens, which magnifies the focused image for the viewer’s eye.

Modern refracting telescopes consist of more than two simple lenses. At both ends of the telescope tube, compound (multiple) lenses are used, consisting of assemblies of individual lenses (called elements) designed to correct for various distortions simple lenses produce. For example, the exact degree to which light bends or refracts in a piece of glass depends on its wavelength. Since light consists of many different wavelengths, a single lens will produce a distortion called “chromatic aberration.” The compound eyepiece of many modern telescopes also corrects the image, which a simple eyepiece would see upside down and reversed left to right.

No comments: