Science 101: How does a telescope work? by: William C. Robertson, Ph.D.

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It turns out that telescopes, microscopes, and binoculars all work on the same principles, so you get three for one in this answer. They give us information that we can’t get with the unaided eye. To do that, these devices gather as much information (in the form of emitted light or other electromagnetic waves or in the form of reflected electrons) as possible, focus it on a small area, and then enlarge the result for easy viewing. Now, if we could just develop a similar system to find out what’s going on in the mind of a teenager.

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Reviews (3)
  • on Wed Mar 09, 2016 11:27 PM

The author does a good job of explaining the basics of how telescopes work. It is informative, but not overly technical. I also think that middle grades students would benefit from this article as well.

Steve  (St. Johns, FL)
Steve (St. Johns, FL)

  • on Wed Jul 20, 2011 7:44 PM

Robertson gives excellent explanations of the similarities between the microscope, telescope and binoculars as well as providing easy to duplicate hands-on activities to help students understand how the telescope works. I modeled these with students 4th grade on up and they began to really understand the purposes behind the differing lenses and how the telescope worked. The explanation is definitely written at the adult level. When I asked the students to explain the difference between the flashlight light and the magnified light, they were able to grasp the basic concept of how the telescope worked.

Sandra Gady  (Renton, WA)
Sandra Gady (Renton, WA)

  • on Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:23 AM

To understand how a telescope works one has to understand how light travels. To do this one needs to know about reflection and refraction. What a good way to learn about both when you are learning about common telescopes. Of course when learning about telescopes you really need to know there are ones that don’t even rely on light such as a radio telescope. What a good way to bundle all these concepts in a practical real-world approach with excellent diagrams to support the concepts.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

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