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by Irene Pease on
The sky is awash in light, but there’s much more outside the visible that we cannot sense with our eyes. What do we see when we use telescopes to peer into the invisible?
Skylight: More Than Meets the Eye
[The Museum’s logo appears]
[RAVEL’S BOLERO PLAYS]
[Clear dark sky with stars, rotating from left to right throughout video.]
Under a dark sky, the human eye sees thousands of stars, and the glow of the Milky Way.]
[Cloudy patches of Milky Way come into view.]
Our sight is limited to the visible spectrum, but many telescopes detect light beyond that narrow range.
[Vertical spectrum appears on far left, with gamma rays at top, radio at bottom. An arrow indicates the part of the spectrum currently shown: visible. Arrows moves down to infrared as sky transitions to infrared view. The band of the galaxy is brightest, with wispy features filling the rest of the sky.]
The dark dust lanes along the Milky Way are transparent to infrared. Stars don’t shine brightly at all wavelengths, but we’ll show the visible stars for reference. Infrared demonstrates that the Milky Way is more than just a narrow band of light in the sky. We also see gas in nearby galaxies, such as Andromeda.
[Circle marks position of Andromeda galaxy. View shifts through microwave to radio light. Circles mark both Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies, which appear as pink spots against otherwise blue-green wisps.]
A different wavelength shows the gases within the Andromeda and the Triangulum galaxies, as well as our own. High concentrations of gas and dust fuel the formation of stars in the Milky Way.
[Band of Milky Way rotates through view again. Shift to microwave light.]
Outside the plane of the galaxy, we see the Cosmic Microwave Background. This “baby picture” of the universe shows the earliest light after the Big Bang.
[Shift from microwave, through infrared, visible, and x-ray, to gamma ray light. Band of Milky Way is brightest, with bright points appears away from the band.]
Gamma rays show light from high-energy pulsars and black holes in our galaxy…
… as well as the luminous cores of galaxies far, far away.
[Spectrum and arrow fade out. Six panels simultaneously show sky in radio, microwave, infrared, visible, x-ray and gamma ray light. The constellation Orion moves across all six, sequentially.]
By examining the entire spectrum, astronomers are able to probe distinct aspects of the cosmos. We need space telescopes to see those parts of the spectrum blocked by Earth’s atmosphere.
[Visible sky extends to full screen.]
We see only a sliver of the spectrum— there’s much more to the sky than meets the eye.