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Telescopes from the Ground Up
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What do telescopes do?
Telescopes are constantly evolving, but the basic principles remain the same:
Diagram illustrating the analogy between a funnel collecting water and a telescope collecting light.

A telescope collects and concentrates light

The bigger the convex lens or the concave mirror, the more light it can collect. The more light it collects, the fainter the objects it allows us to see. The human eye has a convex lens, but the lens is small, and can only collect a small amount of light. Telescopes allow us to see more because their mirrors and lenses can collect more light than the human eye can collect on its own.

A telescope focuses light and creates an image

To create a clear image, telescope lenses and mirrors bring light rays to meet at a single point, the focal point. If the light rays don’t meet at the same point, the image is blurry. The shape of the lens or mirror is designed to make light rays meet at a single focal point.

Diagram illustrating different methods throughout the years of recording images, from hand drawings to digital sensors.

The image is recorded

Once an image forms, it must be recorded for research. Originally, people drew the images they saw through telescopes. Later, photography allowed people to take pictures of the image on film. Today, astronomers use charge-coupled devices (CCDs), electronic light-sensing devices like those in digital cameras, to record images.

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