Radio waves emanating from celestial bodies are received by specially constructed antennas, called radio telescopes, whose use corresponds to that of the optical telescope in observing visible light. In the most common design, a parabolic "dish" replaces the mirror of the reflecting optical telescope. This dish serves to focus the radio waves into a concentrated signal that is then filtered, amplified, and finally analyzed using a computer. The radio signals received from outer space are extremely weak, and long observing times are required to collect a useful amount of energy. Therefore, most radio telescopes are mounted so that they can automatically track a given object as its position changes because of the rotation of the earth.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.