Telescopes

Isaac Newton's telescope

Telescopes

Telescopes are astronomy's most important tool. Without them our picture of the Universe would be dramatically less rich and detailed.

There are many different types of telescope. Traditional ones gather visible light from distant objects to produce a magnified image. It was this kind of instrument that was first pointed skywards by the Englishman Thomas Harriot and later put to famous use by Galileo Galilei.

Image: A telescope made by Isaac Newton on display at The Royal Society

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Isaac Newton's telescope

Introduction

Astronomy's most important tool continues to evolve.

About Telescopes

A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation (such as visible light). The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century, using glass lenses. They found use in terrestrial applications and astronomy.

Within a few decades, the reflecting telescope was invented, which used mirrors. In the 20th century many new types of telescopes were invented, including radio telescopes in the 1930s and infrared telescopes in the 1960s. The word telescope now refers to a wide range of instruments detecting different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and in some cases other types of detectors.

The word "telescope" (from the Greek τῆλε, tele "far" and σκοπεῖν, skopein "to look or see"; τηλεσκόπος, teleskopos "far-seeing") was coined in 1611 by the Greek mathematician Giovanni Demisiani for one of Galileo Galilei's instruments presented at a banquet at the Accademia dei Lincei. In the Starry Messenger, Galileo had used the term "perspicillum".

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