Telescopes Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wished you could see the moon up close? A telescope could help you with that! Learn about different types of telescopes, their history and some of the most famous telescopes in the world.

What is a Telescope?

Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't there. Sometimes, you just need to look closer. This is where a telescope comes in handy. A telescope is an instrument that's used to look at objects that are far away by gathering light. In fact, 'telescope' comes from the Greek word teleskopos, which means 'far-seeing.' People generally use telescopes to look at objects in outer space, like planets, stars and comets. Sometimes, telescopes are used to observe things here on Earth, like interesting wildlife, from a distance.

Telescopes in History

Telescopes were initially used for seeing objects on Earth from a distance.

When telescopes were first invented in the 1600s, they were used to look for ships that were far away. In fact, it wasn't until Italian scientist Galileo pointed the telescope towards the sky that it became a tool in astronomy. Two things came out of Galileo doing this--one good and one not so good.

The good thing that happened was that astronomers (scientists who study outer space) began to discover objects in space, such as the moon's craters, the Milky Way and Jupiter's moons. The bad thing that happened is that he pointed the telescope directly at the sun, which damaged his eyes--he went blind by the end of his life from studying the sun. Telescopes and the sun don't mix!

Types of Telescopes

There are two main types of telescopes: reflecting telescopes and refracting telescopes. Remember how the telescope does it job by gathering light? Well, each of these telescopes gather the light in a different way.


A reflecting telescope has mirrors that use the reflective nature of light to see the faraway object. Basically, the light bounces off the mirrors and focuses so that you can see a detailed image. Most of the larger telescopes are reflecting telescopes, which makes them a great choice for astronomers. However, such great quality comes at a high price--reflecting telescopes can be very expensive.


Refracting telescopes use lenses to gather the light. Think about it like a magnifying glass, but even better. The light passes through the lens and collects into one focused area so that you can see an object that is far away. While the image is not as detailed as the image you might get from a reflecting telescope, it is still good enough to see the moon and the planets, and it isn't as expensive.

Radio telescopes

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