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Until the 20th century, all observational astronomers studied the visible light that astronomical objects emit. Such astronomers are called optical astronomers, because they observe the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum that the human eye sees. Optical astronomers use telescopes and imaging equipment to study light from objects. Professional astronomers today hardly ever actually look through telescopes. Instead, a telescope sends an object’s light to a photographic plate or to an electronic light-sensitive computer chip called a charge-coupled device, or CCD. CCDs are about 50 times more sensitive than film, so today's astronomers can record in a minute an image that would have taken about an hour to record on film.

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