Telescope Evolution Timeline

The history of telescopes is long and fascinating, from ancient civilizations to modern technology and from simple designs to the most advanced telescope in the world. Telescopes have played a pivotal role in astronomy for centuries. They have evolved from simple spyglasses to large professional telescopes that can obtain detailed observations of distant celestial objects. Today the field of astronomy is constantly evolving, and modern telescopes continue to push the boundaries of science. In this article, we look at the timeline of telescopes, from the earliest to the most modern ones.

Timeline of Telescopes:

Table of Contents

470-390 BC

Chinese philosopher Mozi observed that a concave mirror can focus the sun’s rays to a point.

424 BC

Greek theater director and playwright Aristophanes found that glasses full of water can bend the sun’s rays.

3rd century BC

Famous Greek mathematician Euclid first recorded the reflection, refraction, and another scientific overview of the rays of the sun. Later, Ptolemy expanded his work over five centuries.

10-12th century

Ibn al-Haytham, including other Arab scientists conducted several experiments on the properties of light, lenses, mirrors, etc. Ibn al-Haytham wrote a book named ‘Book of Optics’ where he gathered all the results of the experiments. Later the book arrived in Europe and was translated into different languages including Latin. This book founded the base of European exploration of optics.

Late 13th century 

Spectacles were invented for the first time in this century.


The power and ability of different lenses to make distant objects nearer and clearer were discharged.


German spectacle-maker Hans Lippershey patented the first telescope design beating other two scientists named Zacharias Janssen and Jacob Metius. However, it was not known as a telescope till 1611. This scope included two segments: the eyepiece and a concave mirror. The brass concave mirror had a hole in the middle to adjust the eyepiece. This was the first scope that made distant invisible objects visible for the first time.


Galileo Galilei, the famous astronomer, mathematician, and physicist ameliorated the Hans telescope design. Galileo Galilei created a simple reflecting telescope with an objective lens made of polished brass and etched with a crosshatch pattern. The eyepiece lens was also made of brass and etched with a crosshatch pattern. It was later named the ‘Galileo Galilei telescope’ that discovered a lot of astronomical objects and events.


Greek mathematician Giovanni Demisiani visited “Accademia dei Lincei” in Italy and used the word ‘Telescope’ for the first time. ‘Tele’ means ‘far’ and ‘skopein’ means ‘to look’.

In the same year, Johannes Kepler exposed the results of several experiments and scientific explanations of optics, telescopes, and light rays. In fact, he made the first telescope to use only for astronomy with two convex lenses.


Niccolo Zucchi made the first compound telescope using a convex lens and a concave lens. The objective lens had an aperture of 2 inches (5 cm) and was made of silver.


Christoph Scheiner invented the first telescope that could be used to observe the Moon and Mars.


The first compound microscope was invented by Dutch scientists and engineers Christiaan Huygens and Christoph Scheiner. Their telescope made the first observations of Saturn’s rings.


James Gregory designed the first reflecting telescope. Its objective lens was made of polished silver, and the eyepiece was a simple concave mirror.


Sir Isaac Newton patented his revolutionary reflecting telescope design that resolved the drawbacks of the previous telescopes.


A French physicist Laurent Cassegrain invented the first refracting telescope which could reflect light.


English astronomer John Hadley contributed significantly to improving the parabolic mirror that could show details of the Sun, moon, and stars.


Chester Hall made the first telescope with a concave mirror that could focus light from distant objects to a bright point of light.


William Herschel invented the most efficient design of advanced telescopes in history which was named after him. The William Herschel Telescope (WHT) is a165 in a near-infrared reflecting telescope that could go beyond the reaches of the universe at that time.


Alvan Clark and his sons invented the telescope to use specifically for the composition of stars. He discovered that the Sun had a neighbor star. One of his sons named Graham Clark also used this telescope and found the dim companion of Sirius.


George Willis Ritchey and Henri Chretien added a corrector lens to their telescope. This improved the telescope’s resolution and provided clear images of the planets and stars.


The 100-inch (2.5 m) Hooker telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory is built. This telescope has helped Edwin Hubble, Milton Humason, Fritz Zwicky and other astronomers to make many astonishing discoveries.


Edwin Hubble created the ‘Hubble Telescope’. The Hubble telescope is a space telescope that can observe other galaxies. Edwin Hubble discovered the existence of galaxies, which were previously unknown to science.


John Dobson made the portable low-cost Newtonian reflector to observe the celestial bodies easily and more accurately.


Large Altazimuth Telescope (Bolshoi Teleskop Alt-azimutalnyi) or BTA-6 is built. This Russian telescope was 238 inches. It was the largest telescope in 1965. This telescope was used to observe asteroids, comets, and other planets.


The Hubble Telescope was launched into space. It is the most famous telescope in history. It is credited with greatly advancing our understanding of the universe.


The United States government built the largest single-unit telescope for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory named ‘The Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona.

In the same year, ‘The South African Large Telescope’ was built in Sutherland, South Africa. It was a 10-meter single optical telescope with 91 hexagonal mirror segments designed mainly for spectroscopy.


Gran Telescopio Canarias is built. It is the largest optical telescope in the world with a single-aperture.


Kepler telescope was launched into space. The main goal was to find Earth-like planets around Milky Way galaxy.


The infrared space telescope “James Webb Telescope” was built by the United States government to study the light from the most distant and earliest galaxies. 


Estimated completion date of The European Extremely Large Telescope. It is being constructed in northern Chile at an altitude of 5000 meters. It will study the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.