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The History of Telescopes

The first documentation of a telescope appeared in the Netherlands in 1608. This instrument was a staple in the Scientific Revolution, bringing numerous inventors to create their own with variations and improvements. As telescopes have advanced throughout history, as have their magnification, clarity and overall abilities.

When Was the First Telescope Designed?

The first recorded telescope was designed on October 2nd of 1608. In the peak of the Scientific Revolution, Hans Lippershey filed for a patent for a device that could magnify objects by three times. Another spectacle-maker, Zacharias Janssen, applied for a patent just a few weeks later. Because of this conflict, Lippershey never received the patent. 

How Did the First Telescope Work?

His telescope design consisted of a concave eyepiece and a convex objective lens. While the low magnification restricted the telescope to earth-bound observations, this design paved the way for the progression of telescope history.

How Did Galileo’s Telescope Impact the History of Telescopes?

Galileo Galilei was the first to point a telescope skyward, changing the course of telescope history. After news of this innovation spread, Galileo created his own telescope with stronger magnification. This allowed him to be the first man to peer into the cosmos. He made numerous discoveries, including craters and mountains on the moon, the satellites of Jupiter, and stars in the Milky Way. He was also the first to view the sun through a telescope, which likely contributed to his blindness in later life.

How Have Telescopes Changed Throughout History?

Telescopes began as simple tubes containing two mirrors to magnify an image. Throughout history, optical telescopes have improved in magnification, clarity and overall ability. Telescopes of today include powerful lenses and computers, capable of identifying the chemical composition of celestial bodies. These improvements occurred gradually throughout the past 400 years.

These are some of the most notable advancements in the timeline of a telescope:

  • 1608 – Hans Lippershey filed for the first patent of a telescope
  • 1609 – Galileo Galilei optimized the design for astronomy
  • 1616 – Niccolò Zucchi designed the first reflecting telescope
  • 1668 – Sir Isaac Newton created the first successful reflecting telescope
  • 1672 – Laurent Cassegrain invented the Cassegrain Telescope
  • 1721 – John Hadley implemented parabolic mirrors to minimize spherical aberration
  • 1840 – John William Draped captures the first astrophotograph
  • 1910 – George Ritchey designed the Ritchey-Chrétien telescope
  • 1968 – Orbiting Astronomical Observatory 2 became the first space telescope in orbit
  • 1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope, a Ritchey-Chrétien, was launched into orbit
  • 2021 – The James Webb Telescope was launched into orbit

A complete timeline of telescopes starts from 470 BC and covers many additional historical events.

How Did Telescopes Impact the Scientific Revolution?

The Scientific Revolution was a time of rapid scientific advancement, taking place in the 16th and 17th centuries. Throughout history, telescopes contributed to scientific development and entirely new fields of study. These instruments allowed scientists to improve our understanding of the universe, ranging from the composition of celestial bodies to the speed of light.

The History of Space Telescopes

The concept of space telescopes was first proposed by Lyman Spitzer in 1946. In 1968, the first space telescope, called the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory 2, was launched into orbit. Three years later, the Soviet Union launched an ultraviolet, called the Orion 1, telescope aboard the Salyut 1 space station. Following these successes, NASA was quick to launch their own telescope, called the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, these telescopes provide millions of observations, helping us better understand our universe. The detailed history of space telescopes expands on the first designs and improvements in technology.

How Did the Hubble Telescope Impact the History of Telescopes?

The Hubble Space Telescope, initially called the Large Space Telescope, was designed by NASA in the 1940s. After nearly 50 years of planning, the Hubble space telescope was launched into orbit on April 24, 1990. This telescope collected data on the expansion, age and composition of our universe, paving the way for the James Webb Telescope, which was launched in 2021.