Herschel/SPIRE Infrared Astronomy Schools Ask an Astronomer Media
As inhabitants of the earth, we are very lucky to have an atmosphere that provides oxygen in the air so we can breath, water vapor that rains on plants allowing them to grow, and an ozone layer to shield life from excessive ultra-violet light. The atmosphere also very effectively stops particles that fly through space at high speeds and could wreak havoc on life on earth. Astronomers, however, face another perspective: in the same way the atmosphere blocks radiation and particles traveling from space towards earth, it also blocks the view (in many regions of the electromagnetic spectrum) from earth into space.

Only in a certain few sections of the spectrum is it possible to pierce through the atmosphere into space. Visible light makes it through the atmosphere – which is very lucky for us since otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to eat, as plants couldn’t use the sunlight to produce the first sugar! Radio waves can also travel through the atmosphere without getting absorbed.

Astronomical limitations imposed by the earth's atmosphere.

Herschel / SPIRE


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