Who Invented the First Telescope
The question of who invented the first telescope is one that causes a lot of controversy among modern scholars of astronomy. Contrary to popular belief, the telescope was not actually invented by Galileo, though much of history attributes this honor to the Italian astronomer.
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 had applied for a patent in 1608 for a device that was used to hold two lenses apart, focusing an refracting the light that passed between them to make objects appear closer. This patent was refused under claims from other scientists that they had produced similar items, but word of Lippershey’s debatable discovery soon reached Galileo’s ears, and the great man decided to build his own ‘looking glass’ based upon Lippershey’s work and findings.
What Galileo then went on to do, which no other person had before, was to use this wonderful new toy to look at the heavens in a scientific fashion, discovering the moons’ craters, the rings of Saturn, and Jupiter’s four largest moons – Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. This was the first recorded use of a telescope in astronomy, and paved the way for a hundred years of rapid development. In 1610 he produced a book entitled Siderius Nuncius, or ‘Starry Messenger’ which detailed his findings and included a description of the ‘looking glass’ that he had created to make them with. It wasn’t until 1611 that Prince Frederick Sesi of Venice used the term ‘telescope’ to refer to Galileo’s new stargazing instrument. He was watching a display by the astronomer when he coined the term, which later stuck.
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. Spyglasses were employed during the Crusades by Muslim field commanders and sailors, but they lacked any real magnification power over a distance.
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. His telescope suffered from one small design flaw – the images it produced were turned upside-down as they were perceived by the human eye.
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