As you probably already know, a telescope is an instrument that allows observers to see faraway objects. They allow us to see stars, planets, and other celestial bodies up close. 

The first telescopes utilized lenses to bend the light passing through them, causing distant objects to appear closer. Today’s telescopes use mirrors to gather and reflect light, making them even more efficient. 

Here’s a quick overview of the history of telescopes, including information on the modern innovations now in use.

A telescope observing the Milky Way.

 

Modern telescopes are technological marvels that provide us with a better understanding of the universe. The first versions were basic comparatively but expanded knowledge in that period. 

The first telescope

There is some debate over who invented the telescope. While Hans Lippershey first applied to patent the telescope in 1608, some believe Zacharias Jansen was responsible for its invention. Both men were eyeglass makers from the same Dutch town.

Officially, most researchers give Lippershey the credit of inventing the telescope because of the patent but credit Jansen with developing the compound microscope, although both men may have contributed to both inventions.

Lippershey ended up earning a significant payout from the Dutch government so that they could make copies of the telescope. Another Dutchman who laid claim, Jacob Metius, also received a small reward after filing a patent on the invention.

Galileo’s influence

a statue depicting Galileo Galilei

 

The first telescope was very basic, aligning a concave eyepiece with a convex lens to make objects appear more prominent, and Lippershey never used it to observe the sky. 

In 1609, Italian physicist Galileo Galilei heard about the “Dutch perspective glasses” aka the telescope, and designed his own within days. Galileo’s innovation featured significant improvements, as it could magnify objects by 20 times.

After presenting his telescope to the Venetian Senate, officials offered Galileo a job as a lecturer at the University of Padua and doubled his salary

Galileo became the first person on record to point his telescope at the sky, where he made out craters on the moon and observed the Milky Way. He’s also responsible for discovering sunspots, four of Jupiter’s moons, and Saturn’s rings.

Thomas Harriot, a British mathematician, might have been the first to observe the moon with a telescope. However, he never published his drawings of it and, therefore, didn’t receive any credit. 

Kepler and Newton

Ancient Newtonian telescope

 

Despite Galileo’s telescopes offering significant improvements over the originals, much work remained. 

Johannes Kepler improved the design by using two convex lenses in the eyepiece in the first instance of a refracting-type telescope. The result was a wider field of vision and higher magnifications

Then, in 1668, Isaac Newton built the first reflecting telescope using a concave primary mirror and combining it with a flat secondary mirror. This setup created a wider field of view and greater portability. 

Modern innovations

James Webb telescope in deep space

 

Remarkably, despite incredibly technological advancements over the past 350 years, most modern telescopes use some of Issac Newton’s design elements. The use of mirrors is standard in the world’s most powerful space telescopes, although their range is exponentially greater

Perhaps the most famous example is the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched in 1990. This telescope is responsible for determining the age of the universe more accurately, locating the first major exoplanets, monitoring weather on planets in our solar system, and finding some of Pluto’s moons.

The Kepler Telescope was launched in 2009 and is credited with locating over 4,000 potential planets throughout the universe. Of note, the Kepler Telescope has found some super-Earths and other rocky planets.

The latest innovation is the James Webb Space Telescope, which released some of its first images in early 2022 after being launched on Christmas Day, 2021. The device features 18 golden mirror segments that allow for incredibly clear pictures of deep space and is currently about one million miles from Earth.

There’s no way Lippershey, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton could have envisioned how far this technology would take us when creating their inventions. Still, it’s impressive to see what humankind has accomplished over the past 400 years.

The future of telescopes

While we don’t know how far telescope technology will advance from here, it’s mind-blowing to see how far we’ve already come. The images arriving from space are incredible, and the technology will help us make new discoveries throughout the universe in the future. 

How do you feel about this technology and what it means for making discoveries all over the universe? Let us know in the comment section below, and remember to share this post with the astronomy fans in your life!

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