Gazing at the stars to try and interpret their meaning has been one of Man’s earliest dreams. Indeed, all ancient civilizations had scientists and astronomers dedicated to observing the skies. For instance, some climbed to the tops of towers, or descended into deep wells, hoping to find a solution. Moreover, by mapping the stars and observing unusual phenomena such as eclipses, astrology developed. On the other hand, research was hampered by opposition from the Church, who insisted that the stars were fixed. Thus slowing down the progress of the science.
A new impulse for looking at stars
Interest in astronomy was given a new impulse with the arrival of the Renaissance. Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei were among those who turned their attention to the skies. In particular, in the seventeenth century Galileo discovered the four satellites of Jupiter, using a telescope. This reopened the debate on the study of the skies. In fact, Galileo appeared before the Inquisition and was imprisoned, accused of heresy. Subsequently, the sentence was commuted to confinement at home. However, even before this, Leonardo da Vinci had studied many possibilities of observation. That is to say, before seafarers from the East had brought their scientific knowledge to Europe.
The search for a perfect telescope.
Around the eighteenth century there were many attempts to create the perfect telescope. For example, models made of cardboard, with wood or bone fittings, were the first to appear. Even though some models reached ten metres in length, there appeared to be no satisfying solution. Things then changed when English John Dollond made important improvements. Naturally, the improved telescope became a ‘must’ in navigation. In other words, it could be very useful to the Navy, also to explorers and makers of maps.
Binoculars and stars
Gradually, binoculars supplanted the use of the telescope. Austrian Anton de Reita is said to have created the first in 1643, by putting two cardboard telescopes side by side. From about the end of the nineteenth century naval telescopes became collectors’ items.
It is possible to find simple telescopes at reasonable prices. Whereas rarer models can reach quite high quotations, such as a rare four-draw telescope made in London around 1830, estimated at 2,000 pounds. An even rarer model is a George III monocular telescope inscribed ‘Nelson from Emma, 1804’, at an estimated price of 4,000 pounds. Admiral Horatio Nelson was Lady Emma Hamilton’s lover. Most importantly, collectors are advised to seek the advice of experts, since fakes abound.
Galileo’s original telescope
Galileo’s original telescope can be seen in the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy, close to the Uffizi Gallery.