Legend says that sometime in 1608, two children entered the shop of Hans Lippershey, a German-born lens maker who was working in the Netherlands. The children picked up two lenses and held one in front of the other, producing a magnified image of the weathervane atop a nearby church. Lippershey was astounded. He encased two lenses in a small lead tube, and offered his new "looker" to the government. Today we know the device by a different name: the telescope.
Regardless of whether the legend is true, most historians consider Lippershey the creator of the telescope. He filed for a patent on his invention with the States General of the Hague on October 2nd, 1608.
Lippershey never received his patent. Even so, he made and sold several of his new devices to the government.
But the telescope realized its full potential the following year. That's when Galileo Galilei heard about the new invention. He built one of his own, and used it to look at the heavens. He saw craters on the Moon, moons orbiting Jupiter, and a myriad of stars in the hazy band of the Milky Way. His work revolutionized human understanding of the universe -- and our place in it.
It also established the modern practice of observational astronomy -- a practice that flourishes today, with more and bigger telescopes than ever before. It's a practice that may be built on the playful wonder of children in a lens maker's shop more than four centuries ago.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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