You probably haven’t thought much about having a hard time seeing big things. After all, big things are big, right? That usually makes them easy to see.

But what about big things that are far, far away? Some of the biggest things in our universe — planets, stars, solar systems, entire galaxies — are also millions and millions of light years away. (A light year is the distance light travels in one year, which is about 6 trillion miles!)

For example, the sun is a humongous star that we can easily see every day… despite the fact that it’s 93 million miles away. Of course, in space measurements, that’s fairly close!

Other parts of our solar system, like the outermost planets, are farther from Earth than the sun. For example, Neptune is about 3 billion miles away from Earth.

Although Neptune is about four times larger than Earth (based on diameter), we can’t see Neptune with the naked eye because it’s so far away.

Thanks to the curious minds of early scientists, though, a tool was invented long ago that helps us to extend our sight into the great beyond to see some of the biggest things in the universe, even if they’re millions of light years away. What was it? The telescope, of course!

Who invented the telescope? That’s a good question! Many people believe Galileo Galilei invented the telescope because his telescope was the first to be used for astronomy in 1609.

However, the earliest working telescopes actually appeared the year before in 1608. They were made by German-Dutch lens maker Hans Lippershey.

Telescopes use glass lenses or mirrors to create images, much like cameras. By combining different types and sizes of lenses, telescopes allow users to view objects that are very far away.

Once telescopes were invented, astronomers were able to see farther than ever before. Over the years, tremendous discoveries were made, from new planets to new galaxies!

Thanks to telescopes, we now have a better understanding of just how big our universe is. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized astronomy.

Since its launch in 1990, this powerful telescope floats in outer space and allows us to see much farther than ever before. It continues to provide never-before-seen views of the farthest reaches of the universe, including entire galaxies that astronomers never knew existed.

Astronomers are excited about the future of telescopes, too. In fact, the most powerful and scientifically advanced optical telescope on Earth is scheduled to be built atop Mauna Kea mountain in Hawaii by 2018.

It will be called the “Thirty Meter Telescope.” It will have a primary mirror 30 meters in diameter.

A single piece of glass that big (nearly 100 feet across!) would be very difficult to produce. Instead, the primary mirror will consist of 492 smaller individual mirrors shaped like hexagons.

Experts estimate the Thirty Meter Telescope will cost between $970 million and $1.2 billion to produce. This groundbreaking project will be supported by the United States and Canada, as well as other countries, such as Japan, China and India.


16 Join the Discussion

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    • We’re so glad you liked the video for today’s Wonder, Katie! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today and for being such an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Hello, Sarah! Did you check today’s Wonder #365 about fangs? You were SO CLOSE! Way to go for using your thinking skills and trying to guess the next day’s Wonder! We’re proud of you! :-)

  1. The wonder was extraordinary! I never knew that they were going to make a new telescope by 2018! That was an interesting video. Which Country (or state) are they building that huge telescope in?

    • The lucky state to get the “Thirty Meter Telescope” is Hawaii, Colin! It will be built on top of Mauna Kea mountain! We think it would be really cool to visit the telescope and look through it to see what we could see, don’t you? :-)

  2. WOW! With a telescope that big, it would get amazing views of stars, planets, galaxies and planets! It might even help with finding out if there are other planets with life! That’s amazing!

  3. Some of us wonder if that telescope costs too much money, but we also think that it may also be very useful to see the things we can’t see with our own eyes in space or discover brand new space objects. We are wondering what kinds of new things the telescope will allow us to see. Just think of what other types of technology there will be in 2018!

    • Hi there, Wonder Friends in Miss Fleenor’s 5th Grade Class! We are so happy that you are WONDERing with us about technology and telescopes today! You make a great point– sometimes it’s difficult to put a price tag on technology these days. While telescopes, like the one we’ve Wondered about, take lots of energy, knowledge and time to build, they help us experience things we could never see with our own eyes. What will be available in the future? Will we find new planets, new life, new sources for energy? We can’t know for sure, but we will never stop WONDERing! :)

    • We love your enthusiasm, Mikey! Thank you for sharing your comment with us! Have you ever used a telescope to check out the planets, stars, and solar system? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What’s the biggest thing you can see?
  • Who invented the telescope?
  • Where will the most powerful optical telescope on Earth be built?

Wonder Gallery

girl looking telescope_shutterstock_49000765Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to take a look at some of the biggest things in the universe? Explore Hubble Discoveries to view several multimedia features that highlight the scientific leaps that the Hubble Space Telescope has made possible.

You can also explores an album of pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It contains amazing photographs of distant stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and more.

If you have an empty paper towel tube, you can also have fun making your own homemade version of an ancient pirate telescope!


Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s Our Story to watch the Telescopes and Observatories video, which will take you on a trip to explore the telescopes at the United States Naval Observatory.


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