The History of the Telescope

Contrary to popular belief, the telescope was not actually invented by Galileo. Although just about every history book in the world says that he built the first, he was in fact working on principles discovered by a Dutchman by the name of Hans Lippershey, who applied to patent a device that was used to hold two lenses apart, using them to make objects appear closer. Galileo heard of this idea after the patent was refused in 1608, and decided to build his own ‘looking glass’ based Lippershey’s work and findings. What he WAS the first person to do, however, was to use this wonderful new toy to look at the heavens, discovering the moons’ craters, the rings of Saturn, and Jupiter's four largest moons.

Of course, the basic components of the looking glass had been around for years – concave and convex lenses had been used to improve and correct eyesight for well over three centuries. It wasn’t until 1611 that Prince Frederick Sesi of Venice used the term ‘telescope’ to refer to Galileo’s new stargazing instrument, and at about the same time the German scholar and amateur astronomer Johannes Kepler began tinkering with Galileo’s original design. By swapping the original concave lens for a convex lens and adding a third prism behind the eyepiece, Kepler created not only a wider viewing angle, but also the ability to project images on to a clear white screen. Kepler’s invention and notes would become invaluable some three hundred years down the line, aiding in the invention of film projection equipment.

Throughout the 17th Century some of sciences’ most notable names worked on modifications to the telescope. In 1668 Isaac Newton produced the first working reflective telescope, using copper and tin as mirrors to provide far greater magnification than that possible with a lens.

In 1789 the astronomer William Herschel took the next step towards true astronomical telescopes when he created a forty-foot long monstrosity of a telescope, complete with a four-foot lens. Herschel’s model laid the ground work for the huge observatory telescopes that we now know as ‘light buckets’.

Telescopes have not changed much since then – the next big breakthroughs in astronomy came in the middle of the 20th century when satellites, man, and finally the giant space telescopes such as Hubble were sent in to orbit. With Hubble due to be replaced and the European Space Agency’s Herschel space telescope (complete with 3.5 meter mirror lens) almost ready for launch, mankind’s use of telescope technology to view and understand the cosmos continues to grow unabated.

Related Information

What is Astronomy?

10 Closest Stars to the Solar System

Telescopes | Astronomy | Cosmos Telescopes | Astronomy | Cosmos