5 Different Types of Telescopes – Explanation + Visual Guide

In this article, we’ll have a closer look at the different types of telescopes with names and pictures. There are three primary types of telescopes, refractors, reflectors, and catadioptric (all of which are optical telescopes).

  • Refractor telescopes use lenses (dioptrics).
  • Reflector telescopes use mirrors (catoptrics).
  • Catadioptric telescopes use both lenses and mirrors.

The part of the telescope that collects light, called the objective, defines the type of telescope. For example, a refractor telescope uses a glass lens as its objective.


Types of optical telescopes

Optical telescopes are the most popular kinds of telescopes because they are the ones that you would use to view distant planet and stars in outer space.

Refracting Telescopes

A refractor telescope uses a lens to collect and concentrate light. The first telescopes we designed were refractors. Furthermore, the small telescopes that you see sold in stores are refractors. Binoculars are also a type of refracting telescope. Watch the YouTube video below or read here for more information on how refracting telescopes work.

How refractor telescopes work

Reflecting Telescopes

reflector telescope uses a mirror as its objective. The mirror is attached close to the back of the telescope and light is bounced off (reflected) as it strikes the mirror.

Take a look at the YouTube video below to understand how to use a reflector telescope. Or, read here to learn more about how reflecting telescopes work.

How reflector telescopes work
Difference between refracting and reflecting telescopes

Catadioptric Telescopes

These types of telescopes are optical telescopes that combine specifically shaped mirrors and lenses to form an image. Catadioptric telescopes are also referred to as hybrid or compound telescopes.

Other Types of Telescopes

These kinds of telescopes are not optical telescopes. Hence, they need a separate category.

Radio Telescope

This type of telescope uses radio waves to construct images of far-off astronomical bodies. Every object in the sky gives off radio waves.

Check out the video below to understand how radio telescopes help us map out the galaxies around us.

X-Ray and Gamma-Ray Telescope

Gamma-ray telescope

X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes use the rays from the sun, supernovas, and stars to create images. This allows us to see events that occur in deep space like supernovas and black holes.