Big telescopes

On the ground and in space, a global family of giant telescopes – present and future – is designed to gather visible and invisible light from across the Cosmos.

(Credit: STFC)

A rainbow is the spectrum of colours that make up visible light.  But there are other types of light that our eyes can’t see. The full range of light is called the electromagnetic spectrum. Each research telescope is designed to detect light from a specific part of this spectrum, helping astronomers to understand more about the story of the Universe.

  • The radiation left over from the Big Bang, known as the Cosmic Microwave Background, is detected by radio telescopes.
  • Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered using telescopes detecting visible and infrared light.
  • We know blackholes exist because x-ray telescopes see the material around the edges of them.

Extremely Large Telescope


What's the big deal about Gaia?

(Gaia in the UK)

All light travels as waves, from long radio waves to short x-rays. The earth’s atmosphere blocks some of the wavelengths and lets others pass through. That is why we have some telescopes on the ground and others in space.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000