History of the Telescope

When the Phoenicians were cooking on sand, they discovered glass around 3500 BC, but it took about 5,000 years more for glass to be moulded and shaped into lens to make the first telescope. A spectacle maker was probably associated to assemble the first telescope. Hans Lippershey (1570-1619) of Holland is credited with the invention, but there is an element of uncertainty lurking on the discoverer of Telescope. Lippershey though was the first to invent the new device now widely known as Telescope.

Historically, the telescope was introduced to astronomy in 1609 by the legendary Italian scientist Galileo Galilee, who became the first scientist to observe the craters of the moon.

Galileo went further to discover sunspots, the rings of Saturn and the four large moons of Jupiter through the telescope. Galileo’s telescope was akin to a pair of opera glasses. In Galileo’s telescope, an arrangement of glass lenses was used to magnify objects. This arrangement provided limited degree of magnification up to 30 times for Galileo and a highly narrow scope of view. Galileo was not able to see no more than a quarter of the moon’s face without repositioning a part of telescope. In the year 1704, Sir Issac Newton propagated a new concept in telescope design whereby instead of glass lenses, a curved mirror was made use of to collect light and reflect it back to a point of focus.

This reflecting mirror functions like a light-collecting bucket, the larger the bucket, the more amount of light it can collect. The reflector telescope that Newton designed magnified objects millions of times far beyond what could ever be achieved with the help of a lens.

The notion of a segmented mirror dates back to the 19th century, but experiments with it had been fewer and insignificant. Many astronomers doubted its feasibility or in other words practicability of application. It was left for the Keck Telescope to take the technology forward and bring into existence this innovative form of design.

The Short Telescope, however, was designed by the Scottish Instrument maker James Short in the year 1740. An optician and astronomer, James Short invented the first ideal parabolic and elliptic, distortion less mirror perfect for reflecting telescopes.