Thursday, March 13, 2008

Galileo's daughter II

Galileo was the scientist superstar of his era (born 1564, launched scientific career circa 1589, died Jan. 8, 1642).

Perhaps because of his dedication to science, Galileo never married. He had a mistress who bore him two daughters and a son. He had his son legitimized but not his daughters.

Until their early teens, the daughters lived with Galileo’s sister. Then Galileo followed the common path of sending the girls to a convent.

His science

At a party, Galileo, already a well-known scientist, saw a new invention, a spyglass that provided crude magnification. It was basically a toy. Upperclass partygoers were thrilled at being able to discern objects too far away to see with the naked eye

Galileo saw the potential in the spyglass. He repeatedly ground more and more powerful lenses, until he had invented the telescope. When he pointed it at the sky, his discoveries upended the Aristotelean universe, which was the foundation of science at that time.

For example, Aristotle said all celestial bodies were perfectly smooth, yet through the telescope Galileo saw that the moon was pock marked and the sun showed spots. Also, Aristotle taught that the earth was fixed and immovable and all the other celestial bodies rotated around it. However, the telescope revealed that at least four bodies (Jupitier’s moons) rotated around a planet other than the earth. Further, the telescope proved that a 1604 supernova took place out in space beyond the moon, in the celestial sphere Aristotle had deemed immutable.

Knowing how radically his observations challenged accepted science, Galileo put as many telescopes as possible into the hands of fellow scientists around Europe. They corroborated his findings.

Most radically, Galileo came to believe that the earth revolved around the sun. And this is where trouble bubbled up ...

Why do you think this assertion was so troubling?

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