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A telescope is an optical device that helps us see objects that are far away more clearly using an arrangement of mirrors and lenses. Telescopes were first used in the 1600s and since then have led to many discoveries in astronomy.

The earliest record of a telescope was a patent which was submitted in 1608. The patent was submitted by Hans Lippershey, a German-Dutch eyeglass maker, however it is unclear whether he was the inventor or not. The patent wasn’t approved, but word spread of a device that could see far away objects around Europe. One person to hear of its invention was Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. Galileo Galileo improved its design from 3x magnification to 8x. He sold some of his early designs to rich Venetian businessmen and city officials. They used the telescope to spot enemies and and other dangers on sea and land.

Galileo’s interest with the telescope wasn’t in looking at ships, but in studying the night sky. Using his improved design, Galileo started studying Jupiter. Galileo observed four bodies which he saw orbiting Jupiter. Galileo’s observations provided evidence for the Copernican heliocentric model and disproved the geocentric model.

There are two types of optical telescopes, refracting and reflecting telescopes. Refracting telescopes use a series of lenses to produce magnified images. Reflecting telescopes use lenses and mirrors to produce the magnified image. Although when the term telescope is used, it is normally used for instruments used to detect light, there are modern telescopes designed to detect all areas of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Lovell telescope, for example, is a radio telescope near Manchester, England.

Some modern telescopes have been taken off Earth completely. The Hubble Telescope is in orbit around the Earth is to be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope. The Hubble Telescope has been in orbit since 1990 and has taken some of the most famous images that have provided evidence for some of the most ground breaking theories about the universe.

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Largest Optical Telescopes

  • Gran Telescopio Canarias (La Palma, Spain)
  • Hobby-Eberly Telescope (Texas, USA)
  • Keck 1 (Hawaii, USA)
  • Keck 2 (Hawaii, USA)
  • Southern African Large Telescope (Sutherland, South Africa)
Learn more about inventions and discoveries that have changed the world in our Picture Encyclopedia of Innovations!
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