Can Telescopes See Through Clouds? (Explained!)

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No, telescopes cannot see through clouds. This is because a telescope is essentially a very powerful magnifying glass and not able to penetrate through objects that the human eye cannot.

For example, if you use a magnifying glass on a rock, you will not be able to see through the rock itself (although you will be able to see greater detail of that rock). The same applies for clouds; if you cannot see through it with the naked eye, a telescope cannot either.

Why Can’t Telescopes See Through Clouds?

To explain why they more in-depth, a telescope cannot see through clouds because it works by reflecting light just like our eyes do. So, if our eyes cannot see through it, a telescope will also be unable to do so.

But why? Because clouds contain water droplets, which light cannot easily pass through. This is what obscures our view of what lies behind the clouds as we (and our telescopes) depend on light reflection in order to see clearly.

Can Telescopes See Planets In Light Pollution?

Light pollution refers to the light generated in urban areas (think of households, skyscrapers, etc.).

Telescopes can see planets in light polluted areas! Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are the four planets most easily accessible to view in a light polluted sky.

What Is The Best Weather To Use Your Telescope?

It is probably fairly obvious that the best weather to use your telescope is the clearest weather. But there is a lot more to predicting a clear night sky than just looking at your local forecast.

Often the primary focus of local weather reports is chances of rain and whether or not the sky is to be cloudy or clear.  The cloudiness factor in these reports, however, is not really sufficient to help you determine if you will have an optimal stargazing night ahead.

It is best to use websites like Clear OutsideClear Outside or Clear Dark Sky to get the best information about local weather conditions. Although barometric pressure is often found in local reports and is a good indicator of how clear the sky is, with higher barometric pressures indicating clearer skies than lower pressures.

So what more is important to consider? Two factors are transparency and seeing.

Transparency refers to how clear the sky is, as in how devoid it is of dust and/or humidity. Transparency is at its worst in the summer and best in the winter.

Seeing in stargazing refers to how wobbly the sky seems. This might sound strange, but consider how sometimes when you look up at the night sky, the stars appear to be shimmering or even dancing somewhat along the sky. If the sky looks this way, these are known as poor seeing conditions.

On the other hand, the absence of shimmery stars means the seeing conditions are good.

A general rule of thumb is that seeing is better the later at night it gets, whereas it is at its worst early on.

As can be gathered from this, determining good weather conditions for using your telescope involves multiple factors, but remember that conditions do not have to be perfect to enjoy using your telescope. You can stargaze in the summer, it is just that the clarity will likely be lower than it is in the winter months, for example.

Can Radio Telescopes See Through Clouds?

Yes, they can! Note this is a different category of telescope than what has already been discussed.

We have discussed telescopes that work by light, which are known as optical telescopes. Radio telescopes, on the other hand, use radio waves. This type of telescope is able to essentially push through clouds, as well as image places that are normally hidden by dust.

Despite this advantage over optical telescopes, they also have disadvantages.

Radio telescopes have to be a lot larger, or have a much larger viewing area, than an optical telescope in order to provide the same level of detail that the optical one can. While it can provide images hidden from the optical telescope, it cannot do so with the same level of detail without larger equipment generally.

Conclusion

Optical telescopes are unable to penetrate the clouds, working like our own eyes do. Anything we cannot see through, an optical telescope is also unable to see through.

In this way, it makes sense to think of a telescope as a very powerful magnifying glass, enabling us to see much farther than normal while still being constrained to visual capabilities we are used to.

On the other hand, radio telescopes can see through clouds, as they function on radio waves, hence their name. In general, they provide a less detailed image than an optical telescope of similar size and viewing area.

The radio telescope needs larger equipment in order to provide the same level of detail as an optical telescope.

Ideal weather conditions to use your telescope are those that have low humidity, high barometric pressure, along with few or no clouds. However, they do not have to be absolutely perfect to be able to stargaze.

In fact, you can even see some planets despite light pollution, meaning you do not have to travel to the remote countryside to be able to use your telescope.

Rather than relying on your local weather station for forecasting, using resources for stargazing is a better option, allowing you to get more detailed information on whether conditions will be favorable for using your telescope.

References

Urban Astronomy

https://www.accuweather.com/en/space-news/the-best-weather-for-stargazing/693840

https://www.opticalmechanics.com/stargazing-conditions/

What is Radio Astronomy?

https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/science/toolbox/emspectrum_observatories1.html

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