A reflecting telescope (also called a reflector) is a telescope that uses a single or a combination of curved mirrors that reflect light and form an image. The reflecting telescope was invented in the 17th century, by Isaac Newton, as an alternative to the refracting telescope which, at that time, was a design that suffered from severe chromatic aberration. Although reflecting telescopes produce other types of optical aberrations, it is a design that allows for very large diameter objectives. Almost all of the major telescopes used in astronomy research are reflectors. Reflecting telescopes come in many design variations and may employ extra optical elements to improve image quality or place the image in a mechanically advantageous position. Since reflecting telescopes use mirrors, the design is sometimes referred to as a “catoptric” telescope.

A great choice if you are on a small budget or indeed looking for large aperture telescopes. These are sensitive to movement and do require regular collimation to ensure the optical pathways remain perfectly aligned. John Dobson took a reflecting telescope and placed it on a very simple base to make a Dobsonian reflecting telescope which are very popular amongst amateurs and those wishing to see the faintest of objects.


Refracting telescopes

All refracting telescopes use the same principles. The combination of an objective lens 1 and some type of eyepiece 2 is used to gather more light than the human eye is able to collect on its own, focus it 5, and present the viewer with a brighter, clearer, and magnified virtual image 6.

The objective in a refracting telescope refracts or bends light. This refraction causes parallel light rays to converge at a focal point; while those not parallel converge upon a focal plane. The telescope converts a bundle of parallel rays to make an angle α, with the optical axis to a second parallel bundle with angle β. The ratio β/α is called the angular magnification. It equals the ratio between the retinal image sizes obtained with and without the telescope.

Refracting telescopes can come in many different configurations to correct for image orientation and types of aberration. Because the image was formed by the bending of light, or refraction, these telescopes are called refracting telescopes or refractors.

Refracting telescopes are great if you are travelling around to dark sky locations as optics are generally cemented in place and do not suffer when jostled around. Can be quite expensive especially when looking at top-end equipment.


Catadioptric telescopes are optical telescopes that combine specifically shaped mirrors and lenses to form an image. This is usually done so that the telescope can have an overall greater degree of error correction than their all-lens or all-mirror counterparts, with a consequently wider aberration-free field of view. Their designs can have simple all-spherical surfaces and can take advantage of a folded optical path that reduces the mass of the telescope, making them easier to manufacture. Many types employ “correctors”, a lens or curved mirror in a combined image-forming optical system so that the reflective or refractive element can correct the aberrations produced by its counterpart.

These provide the best of both worlds by minimising the optical errors found in both lenses and mirrors. However, they can be very expensive and do suffer from collimation issues amongst many others. Best suited for observatories.