Have you ever thought about what our world might be like if telescopes had never been invented? So much of what we know about the universe has come to us through the lens of a telescope. Here’s a little history lesson, in honor of this most important gadget.
Contrary to popular belief, Galileo Galilei did not invent the first telescope. Historians believe the first working telescope was created by German-Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey in 1608. Though a handful of others are claimed to have made the discovery earlier, Lippershey was the first to apply for a patent, and was honored by the Dutch government for his discovery. This first known telescope was able to magnify images up to three times.
In May of 1609, Galileo first heard of the “Dutch perspective glass,” and quickly built his own version. Galileo built several more telescopes, each stronger and better than the last, until finally, he’d made one that magnified thirty-three times. It was with this telescope that he discovered the Moons of Jupiter, spots on the Sun, and texture on our own Moon. Because of those achievements, historians have often referred to the invention as “the Galilean telescope.”
Nearly 60 years after Lippershey, Sir Isaac Newton improved the design further by building the first usable reflector, incorporating a small flat diagonal mirror to reflect the light to an eyepiece mounted on the side of the telescope.
Since then, there have been countless improvements to the original design, resulting in the incredibly sophisticated instruments we use today. In March 2008, 400 years after the first telescope was created, scientists in Arizona unveiled the world’s strongest telescope, which can relay images of galaxies up to 102 million light-years away!