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!)
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!
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!
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.
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.