History of the Telescope

Do you dream of having your very own observatory at home? Do you have an interest in what our solar system consists of, what do other planets look like? Would you like to explore the stars and the universe? Would you like to share some basic astronomy with your children? Well now you can as even basic telescopes allow us and our children to view the wonders of the stars and planets from our own home.

The very earliest telescopes

To properly understand the evolution of the telescope, we need to revise the history of science and optical physics, we need to understand the motivation for invention in the middle ages in Europe, and we need to trace the incredible advance in technology and knowledge. All of these factors have encouraged the dramatic increase in the understanding of our environment, and the basic human need to continue to explore further and further into our universe.

The very first scientific telescopes were invented in 1608 according to Hans Lippershey, who was a eye glass maker from the Netherlands. He took the knowledge of lens making and his ability to construct precision instruments to design a device which could be used to improve the appearance of a distant object. The first refractor telescope used a convex lens and was combined with a concave focus lens, but its application was extremely limited, and did not lend itself to exploring the stars just yet!

Ever heard of Galileo?

Most of us have heard of the famous scientist named Galileo, but did you know that in 1609, he was the first person to apply a primitive telescope and actually begin using it for astronomy?  Various scientists were aware of the magnifying properties of optical lenses, but until Galileo began to study the heavens, the telescope had not been fully appreciated.  Even with a very small telescope, and very indistinct images, Galileo was able to discern some of the intriguing features on the surface of the Moon.

Once Galileo began to document his early discoveries about the crater scarred surface of the Moon, an incredible interest was sparked in the development of telescopes and in astronomy in general.  Galileo went on to make further explorations of the night sky, such as the stars and planets, and even the Milky Way Galaxy.

But it was the incredible early drawings that Galileo made of the Moon that truly sparked the development of the telescope, and the beginnings of the development of a whole new field of science, which has become known as Astronomy.

The first records of the moon

It was Galileo’s first observations of the moon that sparked

an incredible interest in early development of the telescope


Following in Galileo’s footsteps was another inventor named Kepler, who was to make the next advance in the development of the telescope.  He invented a telescope with a convex magnifying lens and a convex focus lens, which operated in tandem to attract light from an image, and to focus the image at the eyepiece.  These telescopes became known as Kepler style telescopes, even though credit for the design is generally attributed to Hans Lippershey who won the telescope patent for the new instrument.

Isaac Newton invented the early Reflecting Telescope

Did you know that Isaac Newton was yet another scientist who added new designs to the range of telescopes?  He was famous for inventing the very first design of a reflecting telescope using an internal mirror to reflect the light to a side mounted eyepiece.  This was a great leap forward for astronomy, and allowed more and more discoveries of the object that were previously hidden in deep space.

So the small steps made by these early inventors made possible the great leaps forward by later astronomers, and the technology and capabilities of telescopes has increased to incredible levels ever since.

Without doubt, the most exciting thing about modern astronomy is the sophisticated level of telescope technology that even amateur astronomers like you and I can now buy and use in our own backyard.


So I hope you can see where I am heading with this short history of the telescope – some famous names of inventors, and some incredible advances in technology, meant that telescopes evolved very rapidly.  Better still, knowledge of the stars and the universe evolved at a similar rapid pace, driving invention even faster.  Today we get the benefit of this incredible race for telescope technology, with incredibly powerful instruments commonly available for use in our own homes and backyards.  Almost all of the large optical research telescopes used today are reflectors, and you can even get one for your own personal use at home.


Astronomy is no longer for Scientists only!

Astronomers can now gather information about the chemical composition and motions of celestial objects, using the latest instrument called a spectroscope. The radio telescope was invented in the 20th century and was able to “see” different wavelengths other than visible light.  But eventually, bigger and better telescopes were no longer the only way to see further into space, because of the diffusion from the atmosphere surrounding Earth.  To overcome this shortcoming, scientists invented the Hubble telescope, with its incredible eyes projected into space from beyond Earth’s atmosphere. And the exploration and discovery of the heavens continues boundlessly.


So as you can see, the science of astronomy has boomed in the not so distant past and has developed to a point where not only Galileo and Newton can explore the heavens, but you and I can do it now also! You can set up your very own telescope at home and be amazed at the wonders of our solar system and into the heavens beyond. Even children can share the wonder of the stars and the planets using very modest and easily affordable telescopes. Enjoy our reviews of some of the telescopes currently available on the market.




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