Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1641) MP

Florence, Italy



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Place of Burial: Florence, Italy
Birthplace: Pisa, Italy
Death: Died in Arcetri, Italy
Occupation: Scientist
Managed by: Natalie Tan
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About Galileo Galilei

He was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the "father of modern observational astronomy," the "father of modern physics," the "father of science," and "the Father of Modern Science."Stephen Hawking says, "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science."

The motion of uniformly accelerated objects, taught in nearly all high school and introductory college physics courses, was studied by Galileo as the subject of kinematics. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.

Galileo's championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offense, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as "false and contrary to Scripture", and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it—which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy," forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Family and children:

Galileo was born in Pisa (then part of the Duchy of Florence), Italy, the first of six children of Vincenzo Galilei, a famous lutenist, composer and music theorist, and Giulia Ammannati. Four of their six children survived infancy, and the youngest Michelangelo (or Michelagnolo) also became a noted lutenist and composer.

Galileo's full name was Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei. At the age of 8, his family moved to Florence, but he was left with Jacopo Borghini for two years. He then was educated in the Camaldolese Monastery at Vallombrosa, 35 km southeast of Florence.

Although a genuinely pious Roman Catholic, Galileo fathered three children out of wedlock with Marina Gamba. They had two daughters, Virginia in 1600 and Livia in 1601, and one son, Vincenzo, in 1606. Because of their illegitimate birth, their father considered the girls unmarriageable. Their only worthy alternative was the religious life. Both girls were sent to the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri and remained there for the rest of their lives. Virginia took the name Maria Celeste upon entering the convent. She died on 2 April 1634, and is buried with Galileo at the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. Livia took the name Sister Arcangela and was ill for most of her life. Vincenzo was later legitimized and married Sestilia Bocchineri.

Academic work:

Although he seriously considered the priesthood as a young man, he enrolled for a medical degree at the University of Pisa at his father's urging. He did not complete this degree, but instead studied mathematics.

In 1589, he was appointed to the chair of mathematics in Pisa. In 1591 his father died and he was entrusted with the care of his younger brother Michelagnolo. In 1592, he moved to the University of Padua, teaching geometry, mechanics, and astronomy until 1610. During this period Galileo made significant discoveries in both pure fundamental science (for example, kinematics of motion and astronomy) as well as practical applied science (for example, strength of materials and improvement of the telescope). His multiple interests included the study of astrology, which at the time was a discipline tied to the studies of mathematics and astronomy.

Heliocentric theory and ecclesiastical trial:

In 1610 Galileo published an account of his telescopic observations of the moons of Jupiter, using this observation to argue in favour of the sun-centered, Copernican theory of the universe against the dominant earth-centered Ptolemaic and Aristotelian theories. The next year Galileo visited Rome in order to demonstrate his telescope to the influential philosophers and mathematicians of the Jesuit Collegio Romano, and to let them see with their own eyes the reality of the four moons of Jupiter. While in Rome he was also made a member of the Accademia dei Lincei.

In 1612, opposition arose to the Sun-centered theory of the universe which Galileo supported. In 1614, from the pulpit of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Father Tommaso Caccini (1574–1648) denounced Galileo's opinions on the motion of the Earth, judging them dangerous and close to heresy. Galileo went to Rome to defend himself against these accusations, but, in 1616, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino personally handed Galileo an admonition enjoining him neither to advocate nor teach Copernican astronomy. During 1621 and 1622 Galileo wrote his first book, The Assayer (Il Saggiatore), which was approved and published in 1623. In 1630, he returned to Rome to apply for a licence to print the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in Florence in 1632. In October of that year, however, he was ordered to appear before the Holy Office in Rome.

Following a papal trial in which he was found vehemently suspect of heresy, Galileo was placed under house arrest and his movements restricted by the Pope. From 1634 onward he stayed at his country house at Arcetri, outside of Florence. Galileo was ordered to read the seven penitential psalms once a week for the next three years. However his daughter Maria Celeste relieved him of the burden after securing ecclesiastical permission to take it upon herself.He went completely blind in 1638 and was suffering from a painful hernia and insomnia, so he was permitted to travel to Florence for medical advice. He continued to receive visitors until 1642, when, after suffering fever and heart palpitations, aged 77, he died.

Scientific methods:

Galileo made original contributions to the science of motion through an innovative combination of experiment and mathematics. More typical of science at the time were the qualitative studies of William Gilbert, on magnetism and electricity. Galileo's father, Vincenzo Galilei, a lutenist and music theorist, had performed experiments establishing perhaps the oldest known non-linear relation in physics: for a stretched string, the pitch varies as the square root of the tension. These observations lay within the framework of the Pythagorean tradition of music, well-known to instrument makers, which included the fact that subdividing a string by a whole number produces a harmonious scale. Thus, a limited amount of mathematics had long related music and physical science, and young Galileo could see his own father's observations expand on that tradition.

Galileo is perhaps the first to clearly state that the laws of nature are mathematical. In The Assayer he wrote "Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe ... It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures; ... ."His mathematical analyses are a further development of a tradition employed by late scholastic natural philosophers, which Galileo learned when he studied philosophy. Although he tried to remain loyal to the Catholic Church, his adherence to experimental results, and their most honest interpretation, led to a rejection of blind allegiance to authority, both philosophical and religious, in matters of science. In broader terms, this aided the separation of science from both philosophy and religion; a major development in human thought.

By the standards of his time, Galileo was often willing to change his views in accordance with observation. In order to perform his experiments, Galileo had to set up standards of length and time, so that measurements made on different days and in different laboratories could be compared in a reproducible fashion. This provided a reliable foundation on which to confirm mathematical laws using inductive reasoning.

Galileo showed a remarkably modern appreciation for the proper relationship between mathematics, theoretical physics, and experimental physics. He understood the parabola, both in terms of conic sections and in terms of the ordinate (y) varying as the square of the abscissa (x). Galilei further asserted that the parabola was the theoretically ideal trajectory of a uniformly accelerated projectile in the absence of friction and other disturbances. He conceded that there are limits to the validity of this theory, noting on theoretical grounds that a projectile trajectory of a size comparable to that of the Earth could not possibly be a parabola, but he nevertheless maintained that for distances up to the range of the artillery of his day, the deviation of a projectile's trajectory from a parabola would only be very slight.

According to Stephen Hawking, Galileo probably bears more of the responsibility for the birth of modern science than anybody else, and Albert Einstein called him the father of modern science.

Astronomy -


Based only on uncertain descriptions of the first practical telescope, invented by Hans Lippershey in the Netherlands in 1608, Galileo, in the following year, made a telescope with about 3x magnification. He later made improved versions with up to about 30x magnification.With a Galilean telescope the observer could see magnified, upright images on the earth – it was what is commonly known as a terrestrial telescope, or spyglass. He could also use it to observe the sky; for a time he was one of those who could construct telescopes good enough for that purpose. On 25 August 1609, he demonstrated his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers. His telescopes were a profitable sideline. He could sell them to merchants who found them useful both at sea and as items of trade. He published his initial telescopic astronomical observations in March 1610 in a brief treatise entitled Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger).

On 7 January 1610 Galileo observed with his telescope what he described at the time as "three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness," all close to Jupiter, and lying on a straight line through it. Observations on subsequent nights showed that the positions of these "stars" relative to Jupiter were changing in a way that would have been inexplicable if they had really been fixed stars. On 10 January Galileo noted that one of them had disappeared, an observation which he attributed to its being hidden behind Jupiter. Within a few days he concluded that they were orbiting Jupiter: He had discovered three of Jupiter's four largest satellites (moons). He discovered the fourth on 13 January. These satellites are now called Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Galileo named the group of four the Medicean stars, in honour of his future patron, Cosimo II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Cosimo's three brothers. Later astronomers, however, renamed them Galilean satellites in honour of their discoverer.

Once Galileo realized what he had seen a few days later, his observations of the satellites of Jupiter created a revolution in astronomy that reverberates to this day: a planet with smaller planets orbiting it did not conform to the principles of Aristotelian Cosmology, which held that all heavenly bodies should circle the Earth, and many astronomers and philosophers initially refused to believe that Galileo could have discovered such a thing. His observations were confirmed by the observatory of Christopher Clavius and he received a hero's welcome when he visited Rome in 1611.

Galileo continued to observe the satellites over the next eighteen months, and by mid 1611 he had obtained remarkably accurate estimates for their periods—a feat which Kepler had believed impossible.

From September 1610, Galileo observed that Venus exhibited a full set of phases similar to that of the Moon. The heliocentric model of the solar system developed by Nicolaus Copernicus predicted that all phases would be visible since the orbit of Venus around the Sun would cause its illuminated hemisphere to face the Earth when it was on the opposite side of the Sun and to face away from the Earth when it was on the Earth-side of the Sun. On the other hand, in Ptolemy's geocentric model it was impossible for any of the planets' orbits to intersect the spherical shell carrying the Sun. Traditionally the orbit of Venus was placed entirely on the near side of the Sun, where it could exhibit only crescent and new phases. It was, however, also possible to place it entirely on the far side of the Sun, where it could exhibit only gibbous and full phases. After Galileo's telescopic observations of the crescent, gibbous and full phases of Venus, therefore, this Ptolemaic model became untenable. Thus in the early 17th century as a result of his discovery the great majority of astronomers converted to one of the various geo-heliocentric planetary models, such as the Tychonic, Capellan and Extended Capellan models, each either with or without a daily rotating Earth. These all had the virtue of explaining the phases of Venus without the vice of the 'refutation' of full heliocentrism’s prediction of stellar parallax. Galileo’s discovery of the phases of Venus was thus arguably his most empirically practically influential contribution to the two-stage transition from full geocentrism to full heliocentrism via geo-heliocentrism.

Galileo also observed the planet Saturn, and at first mistook its rings for planets, thinking it was a three-bodied system. When he observed the planet later, Saturn's rings were directly oriented at Earth, causing him to think that two of the bodies had disappeared. The rings reappeared when he observed the planet in 1616, further confusing him.

Galileo was one of the first Europeans to observe sunspots, although Kepler had unwittingly observed one in 1607, but mistook it for a transit of Mercury. He also reinterpreted a sunspot observation from the time of Charlemagne, which formerly had been attributed (impossibly) to a transit of Mercury. The very existence of sunspots showed another difficulty with the unchanging perfection of the heavens posited by orthodox Aristotelian celestial physics, but their regular periodic transits also confirmed the dramatic novel prediction of Kepler's Aristotelian celestial dynamics in his 1609 Astronomia Nova that the sun rotates, which was the first successful novel prediction of post-spherist celestial physics. And the annual variations in sunspots' motions, discovered by Francesco Sizzi and others in 1612–1613, provided a powerful argument against both the Ptolemaic system and the geoheliocentric system of Tycho Brahe. A dispute over priority in the discovery of sunspots, and in their interpretation, led Galileo to a long and bitter feud with the Jesuit Christoph Scheiner; in fact, there is little doubt that both of them were beaten by David Fabricius and his son Johannes, looking for confirmation of Kepler's prediction of the sun's rotation. Scheiner quickly adopted Kepler's 1615 proposal of the modern telescope design, which gave larger magnification at the cost of inverted images; Galileo apparently never changed to Kepler's design.

Galileo was the first to report lunar mountains and craters, whose existence he deduced from the patterns of light and shadow on the Moon's surface. He even estimated the mountains' heights from these observations. This led him to the conclusion that the Moon was "rough and uneven, and just like the surface of the Earth itself," rather than a perfect sphere as Aristotle had claimed.

Galileo observed the Milky Way, previously believed to be nebulous, and found it to be a multitude of stars packed so densely that they appeared to be clouds from Earth. He located many other stars too distant to be visible with the naked eye. Galileo also observed the planet Neptune in 1612, but did not realize that it was a planet and took no particular notice of it. It appears in his notebooks as one of many unremarkable dim stars. He observed the double star Mizar in Ursa Major in 1617. In the Starry Messenger Galileo reported that stars appeared as mere blazes of light, essentially unaltered in appearance by the telescope, and contrasted them to planets which the telescope revealed to be disks. However, in later writings he described the stars as also being disks, whose sizes he measured. According to Galileo, stellar disk diameters typically measured a tenth the diameter of the disk of Jupiter (one five-hundredth the diameter of the sun), although some were somewhat larger and others substantially smaller. Galileo argued that stars were suns, and that they were not arranged in a spherical shell surrounding the solar system but rather were at varying distances from Earth. Brighter stars were closer suns, and fainter stars were more distant suns. Based on this idea and on the sizes he claimed for stellar disks, he calculated stars to lie at distances ranging from several hundred solar distances for bright stars to over two thousand solar distances for faint stars barely visible to the unaided eye, with stars visible only with the telescope being further still. These distances, although too small by modern standards, were far larger than planetary distances, and he used these calculations to counter anti-Copernican arguments that distant stars were an absurdity.


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Galileo Galilei's Timeline

February 15, 1564
Pisa, Italy
August 12, 1600
Age 36
Age 36
Age 41
Padua, Italy
January 8, 1641
Age 76
Arcetri, Italy