400 Years Of The Telescope

October 2008 marks the 400th anniversary of the telescope. Though no- one knows exactly who made the first telescope, records exist for the first patented ‘seeing device’, as the arrangement of lenses which brought distant objects closer was known. The first telescope makers were opticians working in the Netherlands in the early 1600s. Demand was high for spectacles. Then, as now, reading caused eye strain, and elderly scholars needed artificial help for their weakening eyesight. Spectacle makers ground their own lenses and were the optical experts of their day, so it was inevitable that experiments would lead to the discovery that two lenses spaced apart magnified distant objects. What they developed through trial and error would prove to be one of the most important inventions of mankind, if not the most important. The telescope not only revolutionised our understanding of the universe, but our place in it. Over the centuries, the telescope showed that Earth was but one planet in a solar system; that the solar system was part of a ‘star city’ called the Milky Way; and that the Milky Way was just one galaxy amongst billions in a universe born billions of years ago.

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