Little Bits of History

I See

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 25, 2011

Modern radio telescope

August 25, 1609: Galileo Galilei demonstrates his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers. This was not Galileo’s only technological advance. He also created and then improved a geometric and military compass, especially valuable for aiming cannons as well as for surveyors. It was also useful in the construction of polygons. Galileo built a thermometer that used the expansion and contraction of air in a bulb moving through a tube of water.

He was working on a way to see the stars and distant planets more clearly, as were many others. He and Thomas Harriot, an Englishman, were the first to use a refracting telescope to peer into the night skies. The term “telescope” was coined by a Greek mathematician, Giovanni Demisiani in 1611. The term means to see far. Galileo was also concerned with seeing small and by 1624  he had perfected a compound microscope. He gifted this invention to the Duke of Bavaria and a second was sent to Prince Cesi. Giovanni Faber gave the name “microscope” to the invention.

The first refracting telescope came out of the Netherlands a year earlier and the inventor is not known. Credit sometimes goes to Hans Lippershey, Zacharias Hanssen, and Jacob Metius. The instrument was perfected many times and by 1668 Isaac Newton added his improvements, creating a telescope which bears his name. In 1733, an achromatic lens helped to correct color distortions. These, however, tarnished rapidly. A silver coating was added in the 19th century, alleviating that problem. Aluminized mirrors came in the 20th century. In the 1900s, telescopes working in a much wider wavelength range gave rise to radio and gamma-ray telescopes as well.

Today’s telescopes come in a variety of types. There are still optical telescopes, but added to them are many more: radio, x-ray, gamma-ray, high energy particle, gravitational wave, and neutrino detector telescopes are all in use. There are infrared, visible light, ultraviolet and low energy scopes, too. Each of these gives an entirely different look to what is in the night sky. Today, the largest optical telescope is the Gran Telescopio Canarias built by Spain, Mexico, and the US. It has an aperture of 410 inches and it is located in the Canary Islands. There are also many telescopes out in space, search outward and sending information back to Earth.

“For my confirmation, I didn’t get a watch and my first pair of long pants, like most Lutheran boys. I got a telescope. My mother thought it would make the best gift.” – Wernher von Braun

“I was, I remember, I still remember when the first time I pointed the telescope at the sky and I saw Saturn with the rings. It was a beautiful image.” – Umberto Guidoni

“The development of the telescope, together with increased knowledge of things, brought men to see that the earth is not what man had once thought it to be.” – Joseph Franklin Rutherford

“Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope.” – Josh Billings

Also on this day:
Swimming the English Channel – In 1875 Matthew Webb becomes the first to swim the English Channel.
Men in the Moon – In 1835, the Great Moon Hoax articles first began to see print.

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