History Of The Telescope – We Discover Who & When The First Telescopes Were Invented

historical information of the telescope

The telescope as we know it today has gone through several significant milestones since it was first patented way back in 1608. It is also one of our most important scientific inventions for exploring our galaxies.

In this article, we will journey through the history of the telescope timeline, with notable mentions from Hans Lippershey, Galileo Galilei, and others. Who have all contributed to the evolution of the telescope as we know it today.

Who Invented The Telescope?

So who and when was the telescope invented? To this day, this question remains in mystery even with the amount of telescope information we have at hand. As glassmaking techniques vastly improved in the late 1500s, it is quite likely that a primitive version of the earliest telescope was constructed during that time.

When Was The Telescope First Patented?

The first telescope patent can be traced back to dutchman Hans Lippershey. He was known as a dutch eyeglass maker, which would explain his passion and knowledge for lenses. 

He patented his design back in 1608 and called it a kijker (looker). While nowhere near the magnification we able to see today, back in 1608, his design was able to achieve a very respectable magnification of three times the image.

It is said that he originally got the idea when he saw two young children holding two lenses together, which he noticed made a weather vane in the distance appear closer.

400 year Telescope Lippershey celebration

Coin celebrating 400 years since the first telescope was patented back in 1608

Counterclaims To The Patent

While Hans Lippershey is in the record books for being the official holder of the first patent for the telescope, it did not go quietly and without controversy.

Zacharias Jansen, who was also located from the same town as Hans and ironically also was an eyeglass maker, Zacharias claimed that Hans had stolen the idea from him.

Another claim to the invention of the telescope was a gentleman by the name of Jacob Metius, who also applied for the patent of the telescope shortly after Hans did. 

Officials ultimately denied both patent applications by Zacharias Jansen and Jacob Metius due to the counterclaims and Hans Lippershey went into the record books as the official patent holder of the telescope.

books-about-patent-law

Did Galileo Invent The Telescope?

While he wasn’t the first person to invent and create the telescope, he did create the first significant breakthrough. 

Not long after Hans Lippershey initial patent, in 1609 in fact, that Italian born scientist Galileo Galilei heard about this fascinating device that was created by Hans Lippershey. Without ever seeing the original design, he set out to create his own version.

Compared to the original patented telescope, Galileo made considerable strides in the design and shortly after was able to achieve a magnification of (20X) twenty times. 

He presented his findings to the Venetian Senate, who were so impressed that they, in turn, gave him the position of lecturer for life at the University of Padua.

galileo

Galileo Galilei created the first telescope to see into space

First Telescope To Point At The Sky

While Galileo's telescope was impressive none the least, he was also recorded as the first person to point his telescope skyward and see the details of the moon. 

With the strength of his design, he could see the craters and other close up details on the moon. Hobbyist's from around the globe who learn to shoot astrophotography can thank Galileo for this initial breakthrough.

View Other Deep Space Objects

Galileo later was also able to discover the rings around Saturn, find the milky way, discover sunspots and even Jupiter's moon. 

Sir Isaac Newton Builds The First Reflecting Telescope

Sir Isaac Newton design was to use a series of mirrors instead of glass lenses that were currently in use in the older telescopes at the time. His thoughts were that doing it this way it would help eliminate chromatic aberration issues that were inherent in the current refracting telescopes of his time.

His version’s discovery was to use curved mirrors to gather the light and reflect it to a diagonal mirror that would project the image to the side of the telescope through an eyepiece.

Isaac Newton's reflecting telescope

Sir Isaac Newton created the first reflecting telescope

Benefits Of The Reflecting Telescope

At the time, while the telescope designed by Galileo was very effective, it didn't go by without being plagued with issues. This is why Newton set out on his redesign and subsequently developing the reflecting telescope. Some of the benefits of his new design at the time were,

  • Easier to build and assemble.
  • Cost much less to build.
  • Eliminated chromatic aberration.
  • Short focal view, resulting in a much wider field of view.
  • Easier to move around and more portable due to the smaller design size.

Creating Binoculars

Binoculars are very similar to a telescope. Basically they "are" two small telescopes, mounted together into a single frame, and positioned in a way that it places one telescope for each eye for viewing.

history of binoculars

Image of older style binoculars

Improvements Over Time

Since Lippershey patented his design way back in 1608, there have been continual improvements to the telescope design. Some minor, some major but always striving to either improve the image quality or distance we can see deep in the galaxy. 

In March 2008 at the 400th anniversary of the telescope, scientists at Arizona declared they had created the world's strongest telescope. Capable of retrieving and seeing images as far as 102 million light-years in the distance.

Some Famous Telescopes Worth Mentioning

The humble telescope has evolved quite a lot since Hans Lippershey’s creation way back in 1608. Here we will take a quick look at the significant advancements of the telescope over time.

1963 - Arecibo Observatory

Built in Puerto Rico, this telescope observatory is most well known for the Arecibo message that was sent out towards a cluster back in 1974. If you have ever seen the 007 James Bond film "Goldeneye," then this observatory may seem familiar. It was the scene for movies final location.

1990 - Hubble Telescope

Launched in 1990, the Hubble telescopes more significant achievements were determining a more precise age of the universe. It also was able to find more moons located near Pluto and was also able to monitor external planets space weather conditions.

hubble telescope in space

Hubble telescope in action in outer space

2009 - Kepler telescope 

Has been able to find more than 4000 possible planets since it was first launched back in 2009. The Kepler has also been able to find rock and earth-like planets, which can be harder to see when they are situated near bright stars.

2013 - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)

Initially activated in 2013 and located in Chile, it's unique design of 66 receivers makes it uniquely sensitive and able to see through dusty conditions in other planetary systems.

Conclusion

Telescopes are a scientific marvel and an invention that scientists and night sky photographers (astrophotography) have much to be thankful for.