Here’s to another successful revolution of the earth around the sun! Happy New Year! While the first telescopes were invented in Holland in 1608 by Hans Lippershey, Jacob Metius and Zacharias Janssen, it was Galileo who improved on their designs and, in 1609, first used the telescope for astronomy. With this new and wondrous instrument he was able to discover evidence that the earth indeed revolves around the sun. For this the Church of Rome declared him a heretic and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, later commuted to house arrest. However, just last month, the Vatican announced that it is rehabilitating Galileo, with Pope Benedict XVI paying tribute to him as a scientist who helped the faithful to better understand and appreciate God’s works. It therefore seems fitting that the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy on the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s introduction of the telescope to astronomy.
The earliest telescopes were refractors. These use the combination of an objective (front) lens and an eyepiece to gather more light than the human eye can gather on its own, to focus this light, and to provide the viewer with a clear, magnified image. They are called refractors because the image is formed by the bending, or refraction, of light. Galileo’s telescopes produced upright images, and his best were able to magnify objects about 30 times. He was the first person to view craters on the moon and on four of the moons orbiting Jupiter. The reflecting telescope was developed in the 17th century as an alternative to the refractor. It uses a single or combination of curved mirrors to reflect light and form an image. Sir Isaac Newton constructed the first practical reflecting telescope in 1668. Since then there have been many improvements and refinements in telescope making, culminating in those providing breathtaking windows on the universe such as the sky-based Chandra X-ray telescope and the Hubble. Today, for the night sky observer here on earth, there are a wide variety of telescopes available, ranging in price from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand. Inexpensive telescopes can provide good viewing for beginners, even though they lack the stability of more expensive models. Binoculars, and even the unaided eye, make for a great start in star gazing too.
This month The Springfield Stars Club celebrates 400 years of the telescope with “Telescopes 101,” an introduction to telescopes for beginners. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 27th at 7.30pm in the Tolman Auditorium at the Springfield Science Museum at the Quadrangle. Club members will bring in telescopes, explain and demonstrate their operation, and discuss the pros and cons of the various makes and models. Refreshments will be served, and the public is welcome free of charge. Next month, on February 24th, the Stars Club will celebrate Galileo’s birth in February, 1564, as well as the 75th anniversary of the Stars Club’s founding with a birthday bash, complete with cake. Please stay tuned!
Amanda Jermyn, of Longmeadow, has been a member of the Springfield Stars Club since 2000 and currently serves on the club's board of directors. For more information, visit the Springfield Stars Club Web site at www.reflector.org or call 1(800)336-9054.
Copyright © Amanda Jermyn