Galileo Biography (1564-1642)

mathematician and astronomer

Galileo Galilei is credited with establishing the modern experimental method.Before Galileo, knowledge of the physical world that was advanced by scientists and thinkers was for the most part a matter of hypothesis and conjecture.In contrast, Galileo introduced the practice of proving or disproving a scientific theory by conducting tests and observing the results. His desire to increase the precision of his observations led him to develop a number of inventions and discovery, particularly in the fields of physics and astronomy.

The son of Vincenzo Galilei (c. 1520-1591), an eminent composer and music theorist, Galileo was born in Pisa. He received his early education at a monastery near Florence, and in 1581 entered the University of Pisa to study medicine. While a student he observed a hanging lamp that was swinging back and forth, and noted that the amount of time it took the lamp to complete an oscillation remained constant, even as the arc of the swing steadily decreased. He later experimented with other suspended objects and discovered that they behaved in the same way, suggesting to him that the principle of the pendulum. Fromthis discovery he was able to invent an instrument that measured time, whichdoctors found to be useful fo measuring a patient's pulse rate, andChristiaan Huygens later adapted the principle of a swinging pendulum to build a pendulum clock.

While at the University of Pisa, Galileo listened in on a geometry lesson andafterward abandoned his medical studies to devote himself to mathematics. However, he was unable to complete a degree at the university due to lack of funds. He returned to Florence in 1585, having studied the works of Euclid (3rdcentury b.c.) and Archimedes. He expanded on Archimedes's work in hydrostatics by creating a hydrostatic balance, a device designed to measure the density of objects. The following year, he published an essay describing his new invention, which determined the specific gravity of objects by weighing them in water. With the hydrostatic balance, Galileo gained a scientific reputation throughout Italy.

In 1592 Galileo was appointed professor of mathematics at Padua University inPisa, where he conducted experiments with falling objects. Aristotle had stated that a heavier object should fall faster than a lighter one. It is said that Galileo tested Aristotle's assertion by climbing the leaning tower of Pisa, dropping objects of various weights, and proving conclusively that all objects, regardless of weight, fall at the same rate.

Some of Galileo 's experiments did not turn out as expected. He tried to determine the speed of light by stationing an assistant on a hill while he stoodon another and timed the flash of a lantern between the hills. He failed because the hilltops were much too close together to make a measurement.

In 1593 he invented one of the first measuring devices to be used in science:the thermometer. Galileo 's thermometer employed a bulb of air that expandedor contracted as temperature changed and in so doing caused the level of a column of water to rise or fall. Though this device was inaccurate because itdid not account for changes in air pressure, it was the forerunner of improved instruments.

From 1602 to 1609 Galileo studied the motion of pendulums and other objects along arcs and inclines. Using inclined planes that he built, he concluded that falling objects accelerate at a constant rate. This law of uniform acceleration later helped Isaac Newton (1642-1727) derive the law of gravity.

Galileo did not make his first contribution to astronomy until 1604, when a supernova abruptly exploded into view. Galileo postulated that this object wasfarther away than the planets and pointed out that this meant that Aristotle's "perfect and unchanging heavens" were not unchanging after all. Ironically, Galileo's best known invention, the telescope, was not his creationafter all. The telescope was actually invented in 1608 by Hans Lippershey, aDanish spectacle maker. When Galileo learned of the invention in mid-1609, hequickly built one himself and made several improvements. His altered telescope could magnify objects at nine power, three times the magnification of Lippershey's model. Galileo's telescope proved to be very valuable for maritime applications, and Galileo was rewarded with a lifetime appointment to the University of Venice.

He continued his work, and by the end of the year he had built a telescope that could magnify at 30 power. The discoveries he made with this instrument revolutionized astronomy. Galileo saw jagged edges on the moon, which he realized were the tops of mountains. He assumed that the moon's large dark areas were bodies of water, which he called maria (though we now know there is no water on the moon). When he observed the Milky Way, Galileo was amazed to discoverJupiter, which resulted in his discovery of its four moons; he later calledthem " satellites," a term suggested by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Galileo named the moons of Jupiter, Sidera Medicea ("Medicean stars") in honor of Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, whom Galileo served as "first philosopher and mathematician" after leaving the University of Pisa in1610. Also, with repeated observation, he was able to watch the moons as theywere being eclipsed by Jupiter and from this he was able to correctly estimate the period of rotation of each of the moons.

In 1610 he outlined planetary discoveries in a small book called Siderus Nuncius ("The Sidereal Messenger"). Venus, seen through the telescope, exhibited phases like the Moon,and for the same reasons: Venus did not produce its own light but was illuminated by the Sun.

Saturn was a mystery: Galileo's 30-power telescope was at the limit of its ability to resolve Saturn, and the planet appeared to have three indistinct parts. When Galileo looked at the Sun, he saw dark spots on its disc. The position of the spots changed from day to day, allowing Galileo to determine the rotational rate of the sun.

In 1613 Galileo published a book in which for the first time he presented evidence for and openly defended the model of the solar system earlier proposedby the Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, who argued that the Earth, rather than being positioned at the center of the universe, as in the Ptolemaic design, was only one of several galactic bodies that orbited the sun. While there was some support even among ecclesiastical authorities for Galileo's proof of the Copernican theory, the Roman Catholic hierarchy ultimately determined that a revision of the long-held astronomical doctrines of the church was unnecessary. Thus, in 1616 a decree was issued by the church declaring the Copernican system "false and erroneous," and Galileo was ordered not to supportthis system.

Following this run-in with the Catholic church and the Inquisition which forced his adherence to the Copernican theory of the solar system, Galileo focused on the problem of determining longitude at sea, which required a reliable clock. Galileo thought it possible to measure time by observing eclipses of Jupiter's moons. Unfortunately, this idea was not practical for eclipses couldnot be predicted with enough accuracy and observing celestial bodies from a rocking ship was nearly impossible.

Galileo wanted to have the edict against the Copernican theory revoked, and in 1624 travelled to Rome to make his appeal to the newly elected pope, UrbanVIII. The pope would not revoke the edict but did give Galileo permission towrite about the Copernican system, with the provision that it would not be given preference to the church-sanctioned Ptolemaic model of the universe.

With Urban's imprimatur, Galileo wrote his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems--Ptolemaic and Copernican, which was published in 1632.Despite his agreement not to favor the Copernican view, the objections to itin the Dialogue are made to sound unconvincing and even ridiculous. Summoned to Rome to stand before the Inquisition, Galileo was accused of violating the original proscription of 1616 forbidding him to promote the Copernican theory. Put on trial for heresy, he was found guilty and ordered to recanthis errors. At some point during this ordeal Galileo is supposed to have madehis famous statement: "And yet it moves," referring to the Copernican doctrine of the Earth's rotation on its axis.

While the judgement against Galileo included a term of imprisonment, the popecommuted this sentence to house arrest at Galileo's home near Florence. Although he was forbidden to publish any further works, he devoted himself to hiswork on motions and parabolic trajectories, arriving at theories that were later refined by others and made an important impact on gunnery. He died blindat the age of 78 in 1642.

User Contributions:

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE and Galileo is my favourite astronomer. Im doing a project on the Sun and this helped a lot! Thanks whoever worte this page but by the way you have a lot of spelling mistakes.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: