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Although most telescopes are used mainly to collect the light of faint objects so that they can be studied, telescopes for planetary and other solar system studies are also used to magnify images. Astronomers use some of the observing time of several important telescopes for planetary studies. In general, planetary astronomers must apply and compete for observing time on telescopes with astronomers seeking to study other objects. Some planetary objects can be studied as they pass in front of, or occult, distant stars. The atmosphere of Neptune's moon Triton and the shapes of asteroids can be investigated in this way, for example. The fields of radio and infrared astronomy are useful for measuring the temperatures of planets and satellites. Ultraviolet astronomy can help astronomers study the magnetic fields of planets.

During the space age, scientists have developed telescopes and other devices, such as instruments to measure magnetic fields or space dust, that can leave Earth's surface and travel close to other objects in the solar system. Robotic spacecraft have visited all of the planets in the solar system except Pluto. Some missions have targeted specific planets and spent much time studying a single planet, and some spacecraft have flown past a number of planets.

Astronomers use different telescopes to study the Sun than they use for nighttime studies because of the extreme brightness of the Sun. Telescopes in space, such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE), are able to study the Sun in regions of the spectrum other than visible light. X rays, ultraviolet, and radio waves from the Sun are especially interesting to astronomers. Studies in various parts of the spectrum give insight into giant flows of gas in the Sun, into how the Sun's energy leaves the Sun to travel to Earth, and into what the interior of the Sun is like. Astronomers also study solar-terrestrial relations—the relation of activity on the Sun with magnetic storms and other effects on Earth. Some of these storms and effects can affect radio reception, cause electrical blackouts, or damage satellites in orbit.




 

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