(Last Updated On: February 1, 2020)

Humans have advanced tremendously in the field of science with the help of telescopes and microscopes. Telescopes and microscopes allow people to look at objects that are too small or too far away.

telescope vs microscope

The discovery of microscopes

The microscope was first developed by eyeglass makers who were based in Denmark and the Netherlands in the early 1600s. Dutch spectacle makers Zacharias Janssen and Hans Lipperhey developed the compound microscope. Anton van Leeuwenhoek started to polish and grind lenses when he realized that lenses shaped in a certain way enlarged an image in the late 16th century. After that, people continued to redesign microscopes to be smaller and more stable. They also improved on the lenses for higher optical quality. With microscopes, scientists could observe cells and bacteria to discover the bacteria that caused diseases and illnesses. As people began to understand more about illnesses, we started to see a huge improvement in human quality of life and prolonged life expectancies.


telescope vs microscope

The discovery of telescopes

Telescopes were also invented around the same time in 1600. In 1608, Hans Lipperhey announced a new instrument that could make objects far away appear closer. Galileo Galilei was the first person to use telescopes to observe the skies which led to many discoveries. He discovered Jupiter’s moons and the details of sunspots. He also discovered the craters on the moon, and that the Milky Way had a huge number of stars. Galileo also started designing and building more advanced telescopes for his own use. Soon, they became known for their high quality. They also became known as the “Galilean telescope”. Johannes Kepler soon created a new type of telescope, the refracting telescope, in 1611. This telescope discovered Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. Isaac Newton developed the first reflecting telescope in 1688 which had a huge increase in magnification.

Many people get confused between telescopes and microscopes. Look no further for the comparison on the difference between telescope vs microscope.


Both make use of concave and convex lenses to make the object look bigger.

Both refracting telescopes and compound microscopes use two convex lenses. The below describes how these telescopes and microscopes work:

Refracting telescopes use two convex lenses with one acting as an objective lens and another lens acting as an eyepiece lens. The objective lens gathers light from objects. It forms an image of the object at the focal point of the lens that is real and inverted. The eyepiece lens is positioned so that the image of the objective lens is at its focal point. Hence, someone looking into the eyepiece can see the image of the object formed at infinity.

Reflecting telescopes, another type of telescope, use a concave mirror instead.

The microscope commonly used in laboratories is the compound microscope. It works on a similar principle to the refracting telescope. An objective lens creates a real and inverted image of the object. The eyepiece lens magnifies the image.

Another type of microscope, the simple microscope, has one convex lens. The lens is positioned such that the object is between the lens and the focal point. The user sees a virtual, upright and magnified image as a result.

An even more powerful type of microscope is the scanning tunneling microscope, which can look at objects which are as small as a cell!

Now let’s go into the differences of a telescope vs microscope.


In this telescope vs microscope comparison, there are differences in uses, focus, lens power and size.


Astronomers use telescopes, while biologists and chemists use microscopes in laboratories.

Telescopes look at objects far away. Microscopes, on the other hand, look at objects close-up.


Telescopes use lenses with long focal lengths, while microscopes use lenses with short focal lengths. The focal length is the distance between the middle of a convex lens or concave lens and the point where parallel rays of light meet or converge.

Telescopes look at large objects far away, and its lenses produce an image that is smaller than the object. On the other hand, microscopes view small objects up close and its lenses produce an image that is larger than the object.

Lens Power

Telescopes have larger lens diameters to absorb more light since the objects that a telescope looks at are far away and there is very little light. For example, planets and moons do not emit light so the telescope needs to absorb as much light as possible to see a clear image. In microscopes, a light source shines on the object being looked at. Hence, a smaller lens diameter is sufficient.

Telescopes rely on natural light, while microscopes use artificial light as explained above.

On a telescope, the user changes the eyepiece to modify the magnification of the object. He does not change the lenses. For microscopes, the eyepieces are fixed and a user changes the lenses to have different magnifications.

The objective lens on telescopes has lower power while the eyepiece lens has more magnification power. For microscopes, the objective lens has a higher power while the additional lenses have less power.

telescope vs microscope


Telescopes are normally quite large and take up a lot of room. The largest telescope in the world is the Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands of Spain and is 34 feet or 409 inches across. However, microscopes are typically smaller in size and take up space on a countertop. Even the world’s most powerful microscope is only 9 feet by 10 feet by 12 feet.

Final Thoughts

There are certainly lots of differences between microscopes and telescopes. While both of these instruments use lenses, the specifications and uses of the lenses differ greatly. Ultimately, this is because of the different uses and purposes of the telescope and microscope. A telescope looks at objects far away, while a microscope looks at small objects up close. The lenses they use are customized accordingly in terms of diameter and focal length. Thanks for reading the above list which is a comprehensive guide on the difference between telescope vs microscope.








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