Last night I happened to look up as I was walking inside at around 10 and noticed that I could see a lot of stars. Like a lot. I am quite a fan of stargazing but despite owning a telescope I have always done it with my naked eyes. But I was in the mood to see some planets in detail so I lugged down the old telescope from the attic and dusted her off only to make a distressing discovery- all the eyepieces were missing (you need those if you want to see anything). My dad and I scoured the dust and cobweb infested boxes in our attic for half an hour but came up empty handed, and I had to resign to reading a book. Now that you have gotten through my exceptionally boring story, I would like to tell you how telescopes work.
The basic function of a telescope is to collect, focus and magnify the light emitted from celestial bodies (stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies, ect...). In many cases, it is actually more important to collect and filter light than it is to magnify it. The ability of a telescope to collect light is related to it's aperture- which is it's lens or mirror diameter- and it's ability to magnify depends on magnification. Aperture is usually harder to expand as it depends on the diameter of the telescope tube but magnification can be changed as easily as screwing in a new eyepiece. The first telescope created by Galileo was a refracting telescope. Contrary to popular belief, Galileo did not invent this technology but he was the first to apply it to the art of stargazing. Refracting scopes use a large objective lens at the front of the tube to collect and bring light into a focal point in the middle of the tube. From there it can be focused and magnified by the eyepiece. Below is a diagram of how light travels through refracting lenses. Check out my next post for reflecting telescopes and closing thoughts.