Adler Planetarium

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass

About the Exhibition

Before Telescopes

Enter through our full-size replica of a familiar giant stone monolith from Stonehenge as we set the scene for early human observing. You’ll learn how observations led to models of the Universe, which led to the development of observing tools.

Early Telescopes

Continue your journey to an Italian balcony in the early 1600s, when the telescope began to replace naked-eye observing. Uncover some of the oldest and most unique telescopes in the world – one of which is an Italian trumpet-shaped telescope from the 1630s, an artifact from the Adler's Mensing Collection.

Encounter a Grand Orrery, a table-sized eighteeth century planetarium hand-crafted from wood and brass, which demonstrates a move toward a heliocentric model of the Universe with the Sun at the center. Look through a colossal 22-foot-long antique telescope from 1675. The Adler is the only place in the world where the public can look through such a large early telescope.

Evolving Telescopes

Explore our collection of cartoons and advertisements, which surfaced as viewing through a telescope became a popular pastime. You can see an original early-nineteenth century patent — complete with the king's wax seal — awarded for an improved telescope.

Learn about the interaction between light and lenses and their connection to the development of the telescope. Mix and match lenses to assemble a functioning telescope or experiment with lenses to learn how their curvatures bend light in different ways.

Modern Telescopes

Moving into the modern era of telescopes witness how the artifacts become more complex and the observations reach deeper into the Universe.

Gaze at our magnificent Dearborn Telescope, created by famous telescope craftsman Alvan Clark. Find the first ever observationally-based map of the Milky Way created by astronomer William Morgan and his colleagues at the Yerkes Observatory in 1951. Discover the South Pole Telescope designed to explore the properties of the Cosmic Microwave Background light emitted billions of years ago from the Universe. Conclude your journey as you exit through a tunnel the same diameter as the main mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope.


Learn more by purchasing the exhibition catalog, Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass by Dr. Marvin Bolt (ISBN: 1-891-220-06-3), in our museum shop or online. Teacher resource guides are also available on our teacher resources page.

Sponsors and Partners

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass is made possible NASA, the Pritzker Foundation and Roderick and Marjorie Webster. The Adler Planetarium recognizes The Webster Club whose members provide essential annual support for the Adler Collections and the telescopes featured in this exhibition.