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Difference Between Reflecting and Refracting Telescopes

Reflecting vs Refracting Telescopes

When it comes to telescopes, there are two types; the reflecting and refracting telescopes. The distinction between the two is in how they manipulate the incoming light in order to magnify the image. The main component in a reflecting telescope is a mirror where the light will bounce off and is then focused into a smaller area. In contrast, a refracting telescope uses lenses that focus the light as it travels towards the other end.

Refracting telescopes gained early ground because they were far easier to create in the days prior to modern technologies. As technology improved, however, its limits began to show. One limitation is the need to produce glass lenses that are absolutely devoid of bubbles or any foreign materials. It may be easy to do with small lenses, but the difficulty exponentially increases as you increase the size. In comparison, the mirrors needed in a reflecting telescope are much easier to produce as only the reflecting surface needs to be absolutely perfect. Any imperfection in the material beneath the top layer is already unimportant.

Another key advantage of reflecting telescopes is how big you can make them. With lenses, the maximum size is limited to about one meter, largely because of the problems stated above as well as the skyrocketing costs. Reflecting telescopes can be made as big as you want since the mirrors can also be made in smaller segments which are then put together to perform one large mirror. Mirrors can also be made relatively cheap making it more feasible to build large arrays.

Reflecting telescopes gained popularity as it became more expensive and difficult to create large, refracting telescopes. Large, refracting telescopes often introduced distortions in the image; either due to imperfections in the material or the sag caused by the weight of the lens itself.

Currently, reflecting and refracting telescopes have their own roles to play. Reflecting telescopes are used more and more in astronomy due to their ability to see much farther and much clearer. On the other hand, refracting telescopes are used more in everyday items like binoculars and camera lens systems due to their straightforward design and lower construction costs.


1.Reflecting telescopes use mirrors while refracting telescopes use lenses.
2.Refracting telescopes require a much purer material than reflecting telescopes.
3.Reflecting telescopes can be made much larger than refracting telescopes.
4.Reflecting telescopes suffer less from aberrations than refracting telescopes.
5.Reflecting telescopes are used more for astronomy while refracting telescopes are used more for photography.

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  1. Hi Ben,I’m just become an amateur astronomer,and I want to purchase a telescope.What kind of telescope should I buy?I’m a college student,I don’t have much money.Could you give me some advice?Thank you!


  2. Outstanding post, you have pointed out some great points

  3. These statements have given me much ideas about the difference between the two telescope.

  4. Thanks. This is very helpfy

  5. Dear differencebetween.net,
    From your article i have gained more information about these telescopes refracting and reflecting. So Thankyou so much. It is a great article. Keep up the good work.

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