The Telescope – 400 years of astronomical discoveries



 International Year of Astronomy 

The telescope celebrates 400 years of scientific discovery in 2009.  In Zeeland Hans Lippershey, a  spectacle-maker, applied for a patent in 1608 for a refracting telescope, or spyglass,  and approached the Dutch army as a possible buyer for his invention. Gradually the telescope became better known throughout Europe.  Although Galileo was far away in Venice, news reached him in July 1609 of the nature of the invention, and he designed and made his own.


Observing the sky with his new telescope, Galileo examined the surface of The Moon, stars, planets such as Jupiter and published in his tract The Starry Messenger, writing that 


‘Jupiter presented itself to me; and because I had prepared a very excellent instrument for myself I perceived (as I had not before, on account of the weakness of my previous instrument) that beside the planet there were three starlets, small indeed, but very bright.


In 1611 Prince Frederick Sesi is said to have coined the term ‘telescope’ during  a reception where Galileo demonstrated his invention, the same year that Johannes Kelper, working as Emporer Rudolph’s Imperial Mathematician in Prague, changed from using a concave eyepiece to a convex eyepiece during his work observing Mars.


Fifty years later Robert Hooke refined the length of tubing required, with Isaac Newton constructing the first viable reflecting telescope later in 1670, and publishing his treatise Opticks in 1704 and ‘An Accompt of a New Catadrioptrical [sic] Telescope invented by Mr. Newton’  describing one of the dangerous ways to create metal for mirrors..


‘The way, which he used, was this. He first melted the Copper alone, then put in the Arsenick, which being melted, he stirred them a little together, bewaring in the mean time, not to draw in breath near the pernicious fumes. After this, he put in Tin, and again so soon as that was melted (which was very suddenly) he stirred them well together, and immediately powred them off….’ 


To find out more…


MetaLib will give you access to astronomy journals such as  


Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy


New astronomy


The Astronomy and astrophysics review


 Project Muse [Athens hosted] features articles on the role of scientific instruments in society, as well as  ECCO – Eighteenth Century Collections Online [Athens hosted, on campus only] making available full-text documents such as ‘Description of the two feet and half achromatic telescope, made by P. and J. Dollond, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, London’, by P. and J. Dollond –  ancestor of the modern opticians Dollond & Aitchison,  published in 1775.  


View the trailer for the International Year of Astronomy 


Galileo. Images of the universe from antiquity to the telescope  Florence, Palazzo Strozzi – 13 March-30 August 2009


Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza  – over 1,200 objects on permanent exhibition 


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