Which of these is the principal light-gathering surface of a reflecting telescope?
A primary mirror (or primary) is the principal light-gathering surface (the objective) of a reflecting telescope.
The primary mirror of a reflecting telescope is a spherical or parabolic shaped disks of polished reflective metal (speculum metal up to the mid 19th century), or in later telescopes, glass or other material coated with a reflective layer. One of the first known reflecting telescopes, Newton's reflector of 1668, used a 3.3 cm polished metal primary mirror. The next major change was to use silver on glass rather than metal, in the 19th century such was with the Crossley reflector. This was changed to vacuum-deposited aluminium on glass, used on the 200-inch Hale telescope.
Solid primary mirrors have to sustain their own weight and not deform under gravity, which limits the maximum size for a single piece primary mirror.
Segmented mirror configurations are used to get around the size limitation on single primary mirrors. For example, the Giant Magellan Telescope will have seven 8.4 meter primary mirrors, with the resolving power equivalent to a 24.5 m (80.4 ft) optical aperture.