The first treatises on the phenomenon of light date back to Ancient Greece, and great philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato made detailed studies. Euclid’s Optics, the first work to deal with the mathematical principles of optics, was written around 300 BC and provided the foundation for all later works on the subject. At that time, optics was mainly understood as the science of vision. Many ancient theorists postulated that the eye sends out a kind of visual ray that strikes objects and makes them visible.
The findings of the Greeks were subsequently built on by Arab scholars. With his Book of Optics, Ibn al-Haytham, also known as Alhazen, produced a treatise that was to remain the standard work on the subject for many hundreds of years. His conclusion was that vision involves rays of light entering the eye. The Renaissance marked the beginning of concerted efforts to observe and record nature. The findings of that time revolutionized the world in many areas – including the field of optics.
Major milestones in optics were set by polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci (who invented a machine for grinding concave mirrors and lenses), Francesco Maurolico (the first person to identify the workings of the eye’s lens), and Giovanni Battista della Porta (who discovered that age-related long-sightedness and myopia can be corrected with lenses).
The telescope was an optical invention that literally expanded our horizons and significantly changed our view of the stars. The first experiments were carried out in Holland around 1600, when it was attempted to mount two lenses behind each other. It’s amazing that it took so long to come up with this simple idea. Galileo Galilei heard about it and began grinding suitable lenses in his glass-blowing workshops in Venice.
Engraving depicting the arrangement of lenses in Galileo Galilei's telescope. This had two double convex lenses. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) an Italian polymath, physicist, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. Dated 19th Century. (Photo by: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Questi modelli, realizzati nel 1923 e nel 1924, replicano i telescopi inventati da Galileo nel 1609 e da Sir Isaac Newton nel 1668. Il telescopio di Galileo (a destra) utilizza lenti che ingrandiscono l’immagine di circa 21 volte, ma presenta un campo visivo molto limitato. Galileo, infatti, riusciva a vedere contemporaneamente circa solo un terzo della Luna. Il telescopio di Newton (a sinistra) utilizza uno specchio concavo per raccogliere la luce invece di una semplice lente che produce falsi colori a causa della dispersione della luce. Per utilizzare il telescopio, l’osservatore deve guardare attraverso un oculare posto sul lato del corpo tubolare. Il percorso della luce viene riflesso sia dallo specchio primario che da uno secondario piatto posto vicino all’estremità superiore del corpo tubolare. (Foto di SSPL/Getty Images)
In 1609 Galileo Galilei built his own telescope with 20x magnification, and immediately realized how useful it was for spotting enemy ships on the horizon. In December of the same year Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens for the very first time. The age of modern astronomy was born, and 300 years later it still held the same fascination for Wilhelm Swarovski.