In this often debated question there are many answers and controversies within the astronomy community. So what is the history of the telescope and who was the creator?
Although Galileo Galilei gets credit from some sources for creating the telescope, he wasn’t the creator at all.
He was the first to use a telescope, and that often gets confused by some with him creating it. He used it in 1609, and became more famous than the actual maker by a long shot. The invention of the telescope still falls within the 1600’s, but only a year before.
In 1608 German spectacle maker Hans Lipperhey not only created the telescope but put in his patent application September of 1608. Now this is another confusing crossroads in the argument, as there were several other patents put in for the same exact invention.
This happened a lot back in the day before media was as huge as it is now. But what of the other inventors who put in their patents for the telescope? Were they just forgotten, and completely out of luck to the point where they just had to go back to the drawing board? The answer may shock you considering these inventors missed out on a small fortune by mere days.
Who is Jacob Metius?
Another patent went in for the telescope by Jacob Metius of Alkmaar, another spectacle maker. A genius in the Netherlands, Metius put his patent in a few weeks after that of Lipperhey. So he was really late to the party by those standards, giving the original patent maker some nice breathing room if this ever went to court.
Metius was a very successful businessman with good standing, and at this point in his career he could handle the blow just fine-but what a blow. Oddly enough Sacharias Janssen made a claim to inventing the telescope. It wouldn’t have been that interesting except that Janssen touted to have created it decades before anyone else. What was Janssen’s employment?
Spectacle maker of course. This is a good lesson in inventions, that it is always first come, first serve.
The first actual design of the telescope wasn’t all that great, nor was it expected to be. Objects at the end of the curved lens on the tube were able to magnify objects up to 3x their size. This made sailing and spotting a lot easier in those days, even with an underpowered scope of that size.
It may seem simple enough, but as complicated as the telescopes are today, they still maintained a lot of their form from the originals. So don’t go thinking that a 3x telescope was anything but a revolution in that day. But telescopes were also all the rage long before Hans put a patent on it.
A good example of this is how Galileo constructed his own version of a telescope, fully functioning, just on a whim. He heard of a telescopes existence and what it could do, and without ever even seeing one created a model that put the 3x version to shame. Galileo improved on the design and magnification levels, allowing him to go all the way up to 30x magnification.
This was a magnificent single achievement by him, and another reason why he is mistakenly attribute credit for creating the telescope. Many places sell the original version in its likeness and it has become somewhat of a collectors item. It certainly is the most copied version of a telescope in history, a true sign that Galileo was a genius in his own right.
Telescopes have advanced since then, using mirrors, electronics, and a dizzying array of accessories to aid them in seeing things not even on this earth. Going from 3x magnification to being able to see the surface of the Moon is a huge step in the right direction. Telescopes will continue to get more powerful, and it is all thanks to everyone that made this possible, not just Hans.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Hans is the hero of this story, and the reason that telescopes are a part of our culture today. They bring together communities, and groups of like minded people to better explore the galaxy and the many wonders not of this earth. It’s amazing that the telescope has had such a cultural and scientific impact on the world.
As unfortunate as it is that there are politics involved in the saga of its creation, people should take a step back and gives Hans his just do.
If were not for him there would be no telescope to build off of. The many iterations of telescopes over the years are because of his patent, and strong will to make the world a more technologically sound place. Even if Galileo is the Uncle of the telescope, Hans is the Father and should be respected for his hard work to get it off of the ground and into people’s hands.
For some interesting facts on it make sure to check the books that come with your new telescope purchase, if any. They often provide a very fun section that delves pretty deep into the subject of telescopes.