Telescopes were inventions of the 16th century that helped bridge the gap between the vast reaches of space and the inhabitants of Planet Earth. For many years, telescopes and spyglasses were used on land and sea as a means of observing an area across a large distance.
Little did these early pioneers of the scrying instrument know how far it would see; they could not, of course, have imagined that a couple of hundred years later, mankind would have the capability to peer beyond the misty blue veil of the planet and into the deep, black expanse of nothingness shrouded by the shadows of ancient galaxies.
It’s interesting to look back and see how far mankind has progressed through the centuries and how much technology has evolved and advanced. As we take a stroll down memory lane, let’s recall some telescope facts that may have been lost through the ages.
- When most people are asked who invented the telescope, the typical response is “Galileo Galilei”. This is incorrect. According to historians, the credit for this achievement actually goes to Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey in 1608. Some legends state that Lippershey got the idea for the telescope in 1605 when he observed two children playing with lenses in his shop and talking about how they could make a distant weather-vane seem closer when looking through the two lenses.
- Did you know that early telescopes weren’t used for gazing at the stars at all? In fact, they had more practical functions back in the day, as there weren’t that many astronomers. Telescopes were mostly used by sailors at sea, soldiers on duty, the military for scouting, and merchants to spot incoming cargo ships before their competitors could.
- If Galileo didn’t invent the telescope, what did he do? He’s the person who got the idea that telescopes could be used for more than what they were used for previously. After a bit of modification, he pointed one up in the sky and became the first man to use a telescope for astronomy. Due to his efforts, some of the first celestial objects to be discovered were Jupiter’s satellites and craters on the Moon. However, curiosity got the best of him and after looking directly at the sun, many believe that this contributed to his future blindness.
- A little-known fact which has long been forgotten by many is that telescopes were used to create the first telecommunications network on a semaphore line. From around the turn of the 17th century to the mid-1800s, the Napoleonic semaphore line was carrying messages across France in a matter of hours. At its high point, it had 534 stations covering more than 5,000km. Each outpost was located in an elevated area and had an operator who used a telescope to view semaphore messages sent by other outposts.
- The largest telescope in the world was located in Ireland and known as “The Leviathan of Parsonstown”. It was constructed by the Earl of Rosse in 1845. For seven decades, the 40-ton reflecting telescope stood strong before being shut down due to lack of usage stemming from constant bad weather in the area. Most major observatories built after that were always placed high in the mountains or elevated positions where the telescope could have a clearer view.
- You may have heard of the Hooker Telescope that was built upon Mount Wilson in California. But did you know how much work was put into its construction? The 100-inch mirror that’s used in the Hooker Telescope was brought up the mountainside in a truck that was guided by 200 men. It took 8 hours to get to the observatory. It was worth it, though, as the Hooker Telescope helped to prove that other galaxies exist.
- It might surprise you to know that many amateur and professional astronomers no longer use a telescope in the traditional method to survey and scan the stars. Most take advantage of Internet-based telescopes such as the Seeing in the Dark scope at New Mexico Skies. Many telescopes today can be controlled remotely straight from the comfort of home. No longer is an actual physical telescope and eyepiece needed to stare deeply into the darkness of space.
- In 1990, NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope. It was put into orbit around Planet Earth and was instrumental in allowing mankind to peer into outer space without receiving as much background light. This enabled us to take clearer and better pictures of deep space and provided so much new data that almost 25% of astronomy research papers at the time were based on information gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope.
- In order for the Hubble Space Telescope’s 8-foot reflecting mirror to reach a very specific thickness of 10 nanometers, it was continually polished for a year. However, NASA was dismayed to learn that the contractors in charge of the job had made a mistake and had polished the mirror to 1,990 nanometers. The problem was eventually fixed three years later after special corrective lenses were installed.
- Some telescopes don’t even pick up visible light, but radio waves instead. This was discovered by Karl Jansky, an engineer, in 1932 when he noticed that his equipment was affected by static on a regular basis. He figured out that the cause was his antenna which was picking up celestial radio sources which are constantly rotating in and out of view.
We hope you enjoyed taking this trip through history while learning these facts about telescopes. Always remember that no matter how much we progress as a species; the past must be remembered. The path to the future will be clear once a light is shone on the steps from whence we came.