"A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must be right." -- Stephen Jay Gould
Nathan Calvino, Grade 7
Galileo was a scientist and mathematician who believed that the sun is at the center of our solar system. He believed that Copernicus was correct in his description of the universe. From an early age Galileo showed his scientific skills. At age nineteen, he discovered the isochronism of a pendulum
while observing the swinging of a lamp hanging from the ceiling of a church. He noticed that "it took the same amount of time for one complete swing" whether the swing was significant or not. By age twenty-two, Galileo had invented the hydrostatic balance
Galileo was foremost a mathematician. He said “Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has written the universe.” He had this in common with Copernicus. Another thing that Galileo and Copernicus had in common was their Christian faith. Galileo once said “I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Galileo said “I think that in the discussion of natural problems we ought to begin not with the Scriptures, but with experiments, and demonstrations.” He believed that correct interpretation of the Bible agrees with observed fact. He viewed Nature as a book written in the language of mathematics. This book of Nature and the Bible are in agreement, but they serve different purposes. He said the "Bible teaches men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."
Galileo was born on February 15, 1564 in Pisa, Italy. He was the first of six children born to Vincenzo Galileo and Guilia Ammannati. Galileo’s father was a well-known musician and music theorist.
In 1572, when Galileo was eight years old, his family moved to Florence. However, Galileo remained in Pisa and lived with Muzio Tedaldi, a relative of Galileo’s mother. At age 10, Galileo joined his family in Florence and began his formal education at the Camaldolese Monastery. Galileo found the monastic life attractive and he became a novice, but his father wanted his son to become a medical doctor.
In 1581 Galileo was sent by his father back to Pisa to live with Muzio Tedaldi and Galileo was enrolled in the University of Pisa for a medical degree. Galileo left the university in 1585, without a degree.
After Galileo left the University of Pisa he continued the study mathematics. He got a teaching post at the University of Pisa in 1589. There he conducted experiments with falling objects and produced his manuscript On Motion.
His father died in 1591. In 1592, his contract with the university was not renewed. He quickly found a position at the University of Padua, teaching geometry, mechanics, and astronomy. Galileo invented the thermometer in 1593 and the compass in 1597.
In 1604, he published The Operation of Geometrical and Military Compass. In the same year, Galileo refined his theories on motion and falling objects and developed the universal law of acceleration. He began to express openly his support of the Copernican theory.
Galileo made a telescope of his own and in the fall of 1609, he turned his telescope toward the heavens. In March of 1610, Galileo published The Starry Messenger. In 1612, he published Discourse on Boarders of Water. In 1613, he published his observations of sunspots.
In 1616, Galileo was ordered by the Pope not to teach or defend the Copernican theory of a heliocentric universe. He obeyed the order for several years, partly to make life easier, and partly because he was a devoted Catholic.
Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was chosen to be the Pope in 1623. He was known as Pope Urban VIII and he was one of Galileo’s friends. Galileo received permission to write about both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems as long as he didn’t promote the Copernican theory.
In 1632, Galileo published the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World System, his most important writing. The Church summoned him to Rome for a hearing that lasted from September 1632 to July 1633. Galileo was treated with respect and was never imprisoned. However, in the end he was convicted of heresy and he was put under house arrest for the remainder of his life. These years were productive as he wrote many manuscripts. However, by 1638 he was blind and in ill health.
Galileo died on January 8, 1642 in Arcetri, near Florence, Italy after suffering from fever and heart palpitations. His will indicated that he wished to be buried beside his father in the family tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce. However, his relatives feared that this would provoke opposition from the Church, so his body was concealed. His body was later placed in a fine tomb in 1737 by the civil authorities against the wishes of many in the Church.
350 years after Galileo's death, on October 30, 1992, Pope John Paul II formally closed a 13-year investigation into the Church's condemnation of Galileo in an address given to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Paul Cardinal Poupard, the head of the investigation, said “We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory."
Galileo should be remembered and honored as an early pioneer in astronomy. Some of his discoveries include:
· that falling objects accelerate at a fixed rate in a vacuum
· that a pendulum can be used to measure time
· that a cannonball travels in a curve called a parabola
· that the planet Jupiter has moons revolving around it
· that the planet Venus has phases just like our moon
On October 18, 1989 the space probe Galileo, named after Galileo Galilei, was launched to study the planet Jupiter. The space probe orbited Jupiter 35 times then in 2003 was driven into Jupiter, deliberately destroyed to avoid contaminating Jupiter’s moon with any of Earth’s bacteria. The probe took close-ups on Jupiter’s rings and found evidence that its icy moons might hold atmosphere.
Related reading: Galileo's Struggle and Vindication