Light, Sound and Waves

Telescope magnification

Practical Activity for 14-16 PRACTICAL PHYISCS

Class practical

Measuring magnification by direct comparison of object and image.

Apparatus and Materials

For each student or group of students

  • The telescope as constructed in the experiment Making a telescope
  • Carbon-filament lamp for preliminary focusing
  • Paper scales, tall
  • Reading lamp, with shades, to illuminate scale

Health & Safety and Technical Notes

The mains lampholder must be fitted with a suitably-fused 13 A plug. It is best if the batten holder is one of the safety pattern where inserting a bulb operates a switch.

Read our standard health & safety guidance

Each scale should be vertical, with horizontal lines on it to act as an object when the magnification is estimated. A strip of shelf-paper can be used, or one or two sheets of A3 paper taped end to end. Rule thick horizontal lines on it every 10 cm, to make a coarse scale. The lines should be numbered. The experiment is easier if successive lines are drawn in different colours.

It helps if the room is three-quarters blacked out. Since the scale is vertical, it may be viewed obliquely, so telescopes may be spread out at the other end of the room.


  1. Post the scales, high up, at each end of the room. Illuminate them with shaded lamps to prevent glaring the observers' eyes.
  2. Direct the telescope at the scale, and focus it so that the final virtual image of the scale rests on the scale itself. Then, keeping both eyes open, estimate the magnification by concentrating the telescope eye on one division of the image, and seeing how many divisions of the original scale the image division covers.

Teaching Notes

  • You might suggest that students measure the focal lengths f1 and f2 of objective and eyepiece - just roughly by catching a window's image on an opposite wall - and see whether f1 / f2 agrees with their estimate of magnification.
  • The magnification will be found to be the ratio of: the focal length objective lens divided by the focal length of the eyepiece lens.
  • The separation of the lenses will be the sum of the focal lengths f1 + f2. At that spacing of the lenses, the telescope is referred to as being in normal adjustment.

This experiment was safety-tested in February 2007

can be analysed using Refraction Formation of Images
can be analysed using the quantity Focal Length Power of a Lens
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