By today’s standards, the telescope may not seem like a particularly technical device. But it was one of the most important scientific instruments in history and helped usher in an age of discovery that continues to this day. We often get the question, who created the telescope?
Many people attribute the invention of the telescope to Galileo Galilei. However, there is an ambiguity surrounding the identity of the telescope’s creator. To help find out the true creator of this incredible invention, we have presented some potential candidates.
What Is A Telescope?
A telescope is a device used for viewing objects at great distances by magnifying them. The word “telescope” was created by Giovanni Demisiani in 1611. Since then, telescopes have become significantly more advanced. Telescopes are still being developed today.
There are lots of different varieties of telescopes which use different types of light. For example, you can get telescopes powered by ultraviolet, x-rays, or infrared.
Interestingly, Uranus was the first planet that was found via the use of a telescope. This planet, which is named after the Greek god of the same name, was discovered in 1781 by William Herschel. Uranus is the seventh planet of the solar system, meaning that it was less visible than planets that were closer to Earth (the third planet).
How Do Telescopes Work?
A telescope works by using lenses to focus light onto a small spot where it can be seen. The telescope will gather light and use it to illuminate objects that are far away.
The more light a telescope can gather, the further you will be able to see. This light is controlled by lenses, which are referred to as optics.
The History Of Telescopes
Before the invention of the telescope, humans had only been able to see things from a distance using their eyes. This limited our ability to view distant objects. As a result, many ancient cultures lacked the knowledge of space that we have nowadays.
However, the invention of the telescope changed all of that. Now, we can see far-away stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies. This has allowed us to learn about these objects and study them further.
Galileo Galilei: Are We Confident He Created the Telescope?
The first potential candidate is the most famous. The invention of the telescope is often attributed to Galileo. Born in 1564, Galileo is a famous Italian physicist. He made many important discoveries and developments in this field. Without Galileo’s contributions, modern science would likely be far less advanced.
Many people believe that Galileo invented the telescope in 1609. However, this is doubtful.
This is because many devices that share similarities with the telescope existed long before Galileo was born. These include the spyglass. Galileo was inspired by the works of other scientists when he created his telescope.
Galileo’s first telescope was capable of enhancing magnification by three times. His later model was far superior, being able to improve magnification by 30 times. Because of this, Galileo’s model was dubbed the Galilean telescope. In addition to this, Galileo also improved the design of the telescope.
With the use of the telescope, Galileo made several important discoveries throughout the 17th century. One of his most significant discoveries was moons orbiting Jupiter. These four moons are nicknamed the Galilean moons. They are four of the largest moons, named Callisto, Ganymede, Io, and Europa.
In addition to this, Galileo observed Venus’ phases and discovered the rings surrounding Saturn. He also uncovered the craters and mountains found on the moon’s surface.
It is possible that Galileo did invent the telescope. However, it is impossible to say for certain that he did. Regardless, Galileo Galilei certainly improved the telescope, allowing tons of telescopic observations to be made.
The doubt surrounding the creation of the telescope should not take away from the fact that he uncovered tons of important information.
Up next, another person who could have created the telescope is Leonard Digges. Unlike Galileo, you may not have heard of Digges unless you are really into math and science. Unfortunately, his contributions to science and surveying are often ignored and under-represented. We hope to change that.
Digges was at the start of the 16th century, though his exact date of birth is unknown. The works of this English mathematician have been developed by others, including his own son (Thomas Digges).
As a surveyor, a telescope would have been useful to Digges. In fact, many people believe that he created the refracting telescope. This variety of optical telescope is often believed to have been created in the 17th century, after the death of Digges.
Part of the reason why Digges is believed to be responsible for the telescope is because of the writing of his son, Thomas. In 1591 Thomas Digges wrote a book entitled Pantometria. In this text, Thomas recorded his father’s achievements and discoveries.
Among these records, Thomas describes one of his father’s inventions which allowed them to see objects from afar, including the planets, the sun, and the moon. Thomas also briefly explained how his father’s device worked, mentioning the use of refraction and reflection. This is why many people have come to believe that Leonard Digges created the telescope.
This is not the only reason why some people consider Leonard to be the creator of the telescope. For instance, one of Digges’ contemporaries left behind similar notes. William Bourne, a fellow mathematician, worked alongside Leonard and Thomas. Bourne’s notes described a telescope-like device that adds validity to the argument that Digges is its true creator.
Moreover, this point of view is further strengthened by the fact that Thomas Digges was appointed by Lord Burghley to a scientific council. Burghley was a chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, who was monarch at the time. Clearly, Thomas and his father had developed a reputation that even the Queen may have been aware of.
Many people, including British historian and science philosopher Colin Ronan, have made the case that Leonard Digges made the telescope. Ronan believes it was created between 1540 and 1559. This was several decades before other people, including Galileo, are believed to have invented it. Sadly, there is no way of verifying this claim.
The difficulty of the invention seems to suggest that it is unlikely that Digges could have crafted it at the time. The descriptions seem to point to the use of a concave mirror and lenses. These would have been extremely hard to produce at the time. Therefore, this seems to discredit the idea that Digges could have made the telescope.
Despite this, there is clear evidence that Digges came up with the idea of the telescope. Even if he may not have successfully made it, Digges should still be acknowledged for his involvement in the creation of this technology.
For a long time, Hans Lipperhey was believed to be the first person to create a telescope. However, that achievement has now been attributed to Galileo Galilei. Who is Lipperhey? Why do people believe that he made the telescope? Why is that no longer the case? Find out here.
Born around 1570, Lipperhay came after Digges. He was German-Dutch in nationality. His occupation was a spectacle-maker, meaning that he worked with lenses and mirrors (which are used to construct telescopes).
This knowledge allowed him to submit a patent for the telescope in 1608, namely the refracting telescope. For those of you who do not know, a patent is a form of legal document that gives you intellectual property over an invention. This will mean that others cannot legally copy the invention without your permission.
Lipperhey applied for this in the Netherlands just a while before Jacob Metius did the same (more on him later). Lipperhey’s patent was for a device that could enable you to see things from afar. His device was not yet known as the telescope.
Ultimately, Lipperhey’s patent application was unsuccessful because other spectacle-makers had made similar designs. Luckily, Lipperhey was still rewarded for his designs. The Dutch government gave him plenty of money.
Though he is not legally the owner of this patent, many people believe that Lipperhey invented the telescope. On the other hand, some other people argue that he merely submitted his application to the patent office before others were able to. If this is the case, then Lipperhey was just quite lucky.
Thankfully, science has not completely forgotten Lipperhey’s contribution. A crater on the moon is known as the Lippershey Crater in honor of this humble spectacle-maker. It uses an alternative spelling of his name. Furthermore, a small planet is named after him, as is an exoplanet.
It seems unlikely that Lipperhey did create the telescope. Instead, I am under the belief that he merely tried to patent it. However, since there is no definitive method for proving this, Lipperhey should not be left out of this discussion.
The story of Jacob Metius is similar to that of Lipperhey. The Dutch-born Metius also submitted a patent for the telescope in 1608. However, this was a few weeks after Lipperhey’s application. Even if he did invent the telescope, Metius would not have been given recognition. This is because Lipperhey beat him to it.
Interestingly, unlike some other men on this list, Metius was not employed as a scientist or a lens-maker. Actually, he made instruments. Instead, Metius merely had a passion for grinding lenses. This is likely how he discovered how telescopes work.
In his patent, Metius believed that with the help of the government, he could produce an even better telescope. He received a reward for his work, though the patent was denied. Metius is recorded as feeling disappointed by this rejection.
Johannes Zachariassen said that Metius and Cornelius Drebbel, another Dutch inventor, bought and copied a telescope created by his father, Zacharias Janssen. This story is questionable since Johannes Zachariassen claimed that this occurred in 1920. This would have happened after the patent application made by Metius in 1908, making its validity doubtful.
Overall, Metius’ narrative is startlingly similar to that of Lipperhey. Unlike Lipperhey, Metius has largely been forgotten. His case is supported by little evidence, and the fact that his patent came after those of others does not help the argument that he created the telescope.
Though we do not believe that Metius created the telescope, one cannot ignore the fact that he could possibly still be its inventor.
Our Conclusion About Who Created the Telescope
To me, it seems impossible to make a definitive conclusion regarding the inventor of the telescope. This is because there simply is not enough evidence. Though some people seem more likely than others, the case can be made that any of the four men above is the true creator of the telescope.
For instance, though there is more evidence that Galileo created it than Metius, you still cannot rule him out.
As a result, we encourage you to form your own thoughts regarding this topic. Who do you think is the likely creator? Do you think it is Galileo, Digges, Lipperhey, or Metius?
Frequently Asked Questions
What Did Galileo Discover?
Aside from potentially inventing the telescope, Galileo is most renowned for discovering the Galilean moons and Saturn’s rings (as mentioned previously). He also learned that telescopes could show stars that were not visible to the naked eye, meaning that there were lots more stars in the sky than originally thought.
Why Is There No Definitive Proof That Any Of These Men Created The Telescope?
There is no conclusive proof that any of these men created the telescope. There are a few reasons for this lack of proof. Firstly, historical records are limited. Since historical proof is needed to make a conclusion, this lack means that no such conclusion can be drawn.
Moreover, a lot of these inventors were working around the same time, namely at the beginning of the 17th century. Thus, it is hard to tell which of them genuinely created it first. Consequently, we can only speculate as to the true inventor’s identity.
Did Isaac Newton Invent The Telescope?
No, Newton did not originally create this device. This scientist is best known for discovering gravity. However, he did develop a version of the telescope. Known as the Newtonian Telescope, this device was created in 1688. This is believed to be the first reflecting telescope. It uses a straightforward design that is still utilized today.
This also means that they are cheaper than other forms of telescopes.
So there you go! Hopefully, this guide will help you to make your mind up regarding the creation of the telescope.