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A Brief History of the Telescope - A Time Line

By Edited Mar 28, 2016 0 0

The beginnings of the telescope start at around 2560 BCE in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptian artisans polished semi precious and precious stone, glass and rock to decorate Sarcophagi and other precious objects. Often these polished pieces were used to create "eyes" in statuary. These polished stones and glass were the precursors of lenses - a basic component of telescopes.

As glass and crystal objects were ever more refined and polished, inventors learned to better cut thinner and more exact sections of glass. And they began to combine these pieces of glass in ways that revealed unexpected vistas about the world around us - literally enlarging the view of the world. Eventually reflective or mirrored surfaces and refractive lenses, were developed.

A Modern Telescope

Today, our telescope technology continues to become more complex and advanced. We are able to read vast ranges of the electro-magnetic spectrum from infra-red to X-rays and beyond. And by placing powerful "space scopes" in orbit above us, we have expanded our window to include the farthest reaches of the universe...

Below follows a timeline detailing the major events in the development and eventual uses of the telescope:

  • 470 BCE - A Chinese philosopher named Mozi used concave mirrors to focus the sun's rays.

  • 4 BCE - Water was used by Seneca the Younger to magnify letters and words.

  • 23 CE - Pliny the Elder discovers doctors using a crystal ball to focus the sun's light intensely enough to cauterize wounds. Both of these events are early example of what would become telescope lenses.

  • Tenth Century CE - Viking pendants and jewelry made of Visby lenses or lenses made from rock crystal (quartz), probably originating from the Middle East, were known to have magnifying properties.

  • 1011-1021 - Ibn al-Haytham (also known as Alhazen) writes the Kitab al-Manazir or Book of Optics. In this book, he wrote about the effects of pinhole and concave lenses, which was influential in the development of the modern telescope. The earliest evidence of "a magnifying device, a convex lens forming a magnified image," also dates back to his Book of Optics.

For the next five hundred years, the understanding of the properties of lenses continues to grow. Small objects can be seen in greater detail due to the magnifying use of glass. The mathematical principals of optics reaches a point where by 1520, a device that we can recognize as a telescope is built.

  • 1520 - Englishman Leonard Digges, a mathematician, invents both the reflecting and refracting telescopes.

  • 1608 - Dutchman Hans Lipperhay, a lens maker applies for a patent for his telescope design.

  • 1609 - Galileo refines and improves Lipperhay's design and renames it first the 'Perspicillum' - then later changes the name of his device to "telescopium" in Latin. He went on to use his telescope to observe and champion Copernicus’s ideas of the order of the universe including the theory that the Earth revolved around the sun.

  • 1616 - Another version of the reflecting telescope makes an appearance as invented by Niccolo Zucchi.

  • 1663 - A telescope with a parabolic primary mirror and an elliptical secondary mirror is created, this time by a Scottish mathematician named James Gregory.

  • 1668 - Sir Isaac Newton designs a telescope incorporating a parabolic mirror and a flat diagonal secondary mirror.

  • 1733 - The achromatic lens is created by Chester Moore Hall. This lens corrects for color aberrations, allowing different wavelengths of light to be focused at the same spot.

  • 1880 - The orthoscopic eyepiece is invented by Ernst Abbe, becoming the most common eyepiece for "amateur telescopes."

  • 1910 - George Ritchey and Henri Chretien invent the Ritchey-Chretien telescope that is used in many large astronomical observatories.

  • 1930 - The Schmidt camera was designed by Bernhard Schmidt.

  • 1937 - A telescope which could pick up everything from radio to X rays was created by Grote Reber.

  • 1944 - Dmitri Maksutov creates the Maksutov telescope.

  • 1962 - UK launches orbiting solar telescope. Solar Telescopes are used to study the sun.

  • 1990 - The Hubble Telescope is launched into orbit.

    Hubble Telescope

  • 2014 - The James Webb Space Telescope is being prepared to be launched into Earth orbit where it will take over the duties of "viewing the Universe" from the Hubble Space Scope.

What does the future hold for the telescope?

I imagine the following will take place: A large observatory will be built on the moon by the year 2050. (Located not too far from Armstrong City.) Eventually, long range orbital-type telescopes will be sent out to Jupiter and beyond. And then one day, in preparation to a trip to the nearest star, a telescope will be sent to Alpha Centauri, to view that solar system, up close.

A 3D Trip into the Carina Nebula

Based on Images Captured by the Hubble Telescope

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