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    Throwback Thursday: Manufacturing Edition: The Reflecting Telescope

    Today’s Throwback Thursday is going way back into history. We’re going to take a look at a revolutionary piece of manufacturing, which was crafted by one of the great astronomers and mathematicians of all time, Sir Isaac Newton himself. His invention, the reflecting telescope, changed the field of astronomy forever! Let’s find out why…

    During the 1600s, Isaac Newton was studying light. The telescope of choice then was Galileo’s refracting telescope, and it was when using one that Newton formed the conclusion that white light must be a mixture of different coloured lights. Newton knew that when light passes through a prism, different colours are separated and become discernible, and from this, the same would happen to a lens, yet on a smaller scale. The problem was that refracting telescopes used lenses, and he thought it would be impossible to remove chromatic aberration so long as lenses were involved.

    In 1668, Isaac Newton had achieved what he had set out to do, which was to build a new kind of telescope that would simply work better than a refractor. In reality, he had created something which would alter the way humans saw the world and the universe that surrounds it forever. Newton’s invention was a reflector telescope, which used a mirror to bend light and magnify images, rather than lenses. Although he was not the only person to imagine a telescope that uses mirrors, he was certainly the first to make the idea come to life successfully. The telescope was so impressive that when shown to the Royal Society of London, one the most esteemed organisations promoting science at the time, Newton was elected for membership immediately. 

    The differences between the reflector and the refractor, apart from the mirrors, are that the reflector is easier to make and can be made in sizes much greater than refractors. The largest refractor telescope in the world is 40 inches in diameter, whereas the largest reflectors (currently in operation) come in at over 400 inches! In the 1600s, glass and lens making were still very much in their primitive stages and so Newton’s telescope fixed the problem of chromatic aberration. Today, it is possible to create lenses without chromatic aberration; however, we can’t make them as big as they would need to be without the lens getting too heavy, thus distorting the image.

    Sir Isaac Newton carried on the work of the greats that came before him, Copernicus and Galileo, whose work established our understanding of the universe we live in. Although Newton didn’t discover anything “off world” like Galileo did when discovering Jupiter’s moons, he discovered something remarkable. He tied together mathematics and astronomy to prove that gravitation is a two-sided operation. He proved via mathematics that while the earth pulled on a falling apple, the apple too pulled on the earth. 

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