A new era in the history of science began in 1609, when the Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei turned a new instrument – the binoculars – towards the starry sky. However, the worldview of the Catholic Church was threatened by the Italian’s groundbreaking astronomical discoveries, and in 1633 Galileo was brought before the Inquisition – the pope’s dreaded court.
With his heart pounding in his chest and hands shaking, Galileo Galilei aimed his binoculars at the night sky. Several times he had to take a break to wipe off moisture from the lenses. He stared up at a myriad of points of light and at the moon, which had suddenly changed completely. The round moon disk looked like a living landscape with mountains and valleys. It was fascinating!
“I direct my infinite gratitude to God, who in His goodness alone has left me the first observer of the wonders that have been hidden for all previous centuries,” wrote a proud and humble Galilee.
The moon, the stars and the sky of God never became the same again since Galileo in 1609 aimed his binoculars at the night sky. The discovery of the craters of the moon was just one of his groundbreaking observations – observations that would make him unfamiliar with contemporary beliefs and that made him one of history’s most significant scientists.
Galileo Galilei dropped out of school
Galileo Galilei had brought his curiosity with him from home. Knowledge was highly valued in the house in Pisa in northern Italy where he was born on February 15, 1564. His father Vincenzio was from an old Tuscan noble family and a former relative had been a prominent physician and scientist in the 15th century. The family had a coat of arms but no fortune, and to support the family, Galileo’s music-educated father used to work in his in-laws’ clothing store. In his spare time, Vincenzio devoted himself to music, which was considered as important as mathematics, and he gladly initiated his son into the mystery of tones. In addition to playing the lute and organ, Galileo also helped his father with a variety of practical experiments with sound waves, oscillations and harmonies. Vincenzio sincerely hoped that his son would not have to follow in his footsteps and instead acquire a profession from which he could live.
Galileo preferred to go to a convent, but that was not the case. The family could not afford to let a son live in poverty. The father wanted the son to become a doctor. Galileo began his studies in medicine but soon ignored the lectures. Instead, he snuck off to the mathematics institute and after four years he was forced to leave the university without a degree and sloppily move home to his parents. They now lived in Florence, but Galileo did not stay there long. The rumor about his talent spread quickly and he soon found employment at the University of Padua near Venice, where his knowledge of mathematics and physics benefited the shipbuilders at the Venetian shipyard.
At the same time he met the beautiful, 22 year old, Maria Gamba. He himself had turned 30. They fell in love and eventually had three children together.
The telescope gave a new view of the world
Although the children were given Galileo Galilei’s last name, the parents were never married. On the one hand, Maria came from a simple family that did not fit into the fine family of Galileo, and on the other hand, a scientist was expected to remain unmarried and devote her time to teaching students. This became Galilei’s narrow happiness when, in the summer of 1605, he had a very special pupil: the 17-year-old Cosimo – son of Grand Duke Fernandino de ‘Medici of Tuscany. At this time, Italy was a patchwork of states ruled by princes with great influence on religious, political and scientific issues and one of the most powerful was the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who in 1605 sent his son to Galilee to study. For Galileo, this was the chance of his life. He was looking for a way to approach the noble Medici family and in 1609 the opportunity arose. Galileo heard about the binoculars. The groundbreaking invention recently constructed by two Dutch opticians could make distant objects appear close together. Soon Galileo had built his own telescope and eagerly aimed it at the sky.
In addition to the rough surface of the moon, Galileo also saw other wonderful things. One night in early 1610, he observed four smaller “planets” orbiting Jupiter regularly. “Four planets, never seen from the beginning of the world to our time,” he wrote enthusiastically. He collected his notes in a book entitled The Messenger of the Stars, in which he named the planets “the cosmic planets” after his distinguished student. When Cosimo refused and instead suggested that the planets be named “the Medici stars” after his family, Galileo had to correct the name in the more than 500 copies of the book that had already been printed. But he was rewarded for his labor. Galileo was soon able to call himself “chief mathematician at the University of Pisa and court philosopher and mathematician of the Grand Duke”.
Galileo made his entrance into the noble company with that honor. During his first trip to Rome as a court mathematician, he discussed his discoveries with the church’s most powerful men. Many of them had acquired binoculars of their own and were able to delight in confirming Galileo’s observations. He became a member of the prestigious Accademia del Lincei and even had an audience with the pope.
Scholars within the Catholic Church saw the earth
as unique and could not accept that other planets
were surrounded by moons. Galileo himself
considered the discovery of Jupiter’s four moons to
be its largest. In addition to the four large moons
Galilei found, Jupiter has many other – smaller – moons.
Died at the stake for telling the truth
Approval from the church was important. In the 17th century, astronomy was a very controversial science. From the church’s point of view, it was respectable to explore the earth and all that God created there. With the sky, it was a completely different thing. Heaven belonged to God and he had created it with the earth of men in the center and all the other planets orbiting around it. The fact that the Reformation had sown divisions within the church made the Vatican even more concerned with safeguarding the old worldview.
One hundred years earlier, the church had silenced the astronomer Copernicus, who claimed that the earth revolved around the sun, and as late as 1600, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno had been burned alive at the stake for saying the same thing. Galileo proceeded cautiously in discussing his observations with the men of the Church in Rome. It was not only academically rewarding, it could also save his life and career.
When he was criticized in 1612, he discussed his views in Rome. He was writing a new book about the sun, the earth and their place in the universe and presented parts of it to the Vatican. What Galileo saw in his binoculars did not agree with the teachings of the Church.
“With a harmonious chord of 12, they make a huge orbit around the center of the universe, the sun,” he wrote, for example, about Jupiter’s moons and thus confessed color.
A priest had already branded Galileo a “practitioner of devilish arts” and an “enemy of true religion,” but in Rome the mood was less fierce as long as Galileo did not directly agitate for the new worldview. In front of Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, who had also studied astronomy, Galileo promised to keep a low profile and only present his thoughts as a theory among many others – not as a fact.
To silence his critics, he had Bellarmino write a statement. Here it was stated that Galileo was not accused of anything at all but that he had only received a kind remark that his theories were contrary to the holy scriptures.
Galileo traveled home in the belief that he had received a guarantee against future persecution.
Galileo’s discovery of dark spots on the sun
contradicted the Church’s image of the sun
as a pure, exalted and unchanging planet.
Galileo admitted that he did not know what
the stains were but that they “form and dissolve
on the surface and lie close to it”. He thought the spots
were clouds but in reality they are due to magnetic fields.
Spheres and lanterns would prove theories
The philosopher Aristotle had noticed that light objects such as a feather fell more slowly than stone and lead and concluded that heavy objects fall faster than light ones. Galileo did not agree but considered that the difference in speed was only due to the air resistance.
He performed an experiment. Empirical experiments are today an obvious part of science, but Galileo was one of the first to use this method. Galileo is said to have proved his theory by dropping two spheres of different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Despite the difference in weight, the globe landed almost simultaneously.
Galileo also did not believe in Aristotle’s theory that the speed of light is infinitely high, so he made another attempt. Two people, each with a lantern, were placed at different distances from each other. When one person extinguished his lantern, the other would do the same. Galileo assumed that the farther apart they were, the longer it would take for person number two to react. However, the speed of light is too high for Aristotle’s theory to be dismissed in this way.
The Vatican approved Galileo Galilei’s book
In the years that followed, Galileo contented himself with discussing with his friend. In the summer of 1623, however, a new pope was elected, and it was good news for Galileo. Maffeo Barberini, now Pope Urban VIII, was one of Galileo’s friends interested in science, and the two had often supported each other’s views. The pope’s first statements meant promises of support for art and science, and when Galileo came to Rome to congratulate his old friend, he received only good words along the way.
“This great man, whose fame radiates in the heavens and spreads far and wide over the earth, we embrace with fatherly love,” wrote Urban VIII.
Encouraged, Galileo continued to write the book Dialogue on the Two World Systems, in which almost every issue in the natural sciences was supported and soaked. As a narrative technique – and to guard against critics – the book was written as a play in which three men argue for the two theories about the solar system. In this way, both views were heard, Galilei said. To be absolutely sure not to deviate from the correct doctrine, he traveled to Rome to obtain the formal permission from the Vatican required before the book was published.
The condition came within a few weeks. But then the plague struck. It spread across Italy and in a desperate attempt to protect itself, Rome imposed quarantine rules. This made censorship of Galileo’s manuscript more difficult. In a compromise with the Vatican, part of the book was approved locally while the more controversial sections were sent to Rome. When the book was finally published in February 1632, it was praised. “I always have it with me (…) and I read it aloud to my friends,” wrote Pope Urban’s foremost mathematician.
The pope himself did not have time to read the book because his tenure had quickly ended in chaos. The religious strife that followed in the wake of the Reformation had led to the Thirty Years’ War and a sea of related conflicts. Urban involvement in the war had cost the Vatican dearly and several cardinals were outraged at what they considered to be too soft a line towards the German Protestants. Galileo’s enemies were very anxious to whisper intimacy in the pope’s ear: The book was a mockery and an insult to the Church, they said, and there was a grain of truth in these rumors. The book was not a scientific report in the modern sense but designed as a conversation between three men.
And instead of presenting the views as equivalent, Galileo put the defense of the sun as the center of the mouth of two highly educated men while the Church’s position on the earth as the center was put forward by a man named Simplicio. The pope became furious and Galileo was ordered to appear before the Inquisition – the dreaded court of the Catholic Church.
Shaken, the 68-year-old Galilei wrote his will before heading to Rome once again.
On April 12, 1633, Galileo entered through the door of the Inquisition Palace. The interrogation that followed was about Galileo’s conversation with Cardinal Bellarmino.
“What decision was made?” asked the Grand Inquisitor sternly.
Galileo recounted the conversation as he remembered it, and the result: that he was allowed to speak of the sun-centered universe as a hypothesis. He also brought with him the letter from Bellarmino. The Grand Inquisitor then showed him the minutes of the meeting and they were worded in sharp words.
“Neither may he henceforth in any way spread, teach, or defend his hypothesis in word or writing,” read the ominous summary of Bellarmino’s words.
Now Galileo realized that his conversation with Cardinal Bellarmino had taken on a much harsher tone in the official minutes than the kind remark he himself considered to have received. The exposition put Galilei in trouble – it undeniably looked as if he had tried to lead the pope behind the light by getting him to approve the book. In addition, anyone who read Dialogue could see where Galileo had his sympathies.
The Inquisition’s own theologians stated that “there is no doubt that Galileo is writing about the motion of the earth in writing.” Galileo also wrote in Italian and not in Latin, which only made matters worse.
“He writes in Italian – not to extend a hand to foreigners or learned men but to entice ordinary people to believe in this doctrine,” said another critical commenter.
Ancient astronomers had described the moon
as absolutely round, smooth and contourless.
But through his binoculars, Galileo saw something
completely different. The moon was “rough and
uneven and like the surface of the earth covered
with huge protrusions, deep valleys and cracks”.
Galileo’s studies of the surface of the moon therefore
disturbed the worldview of ancient astronomers
– and thus of the Church.
Many of the Church’s astronomers accepted Galileo’s
claim, but some rejected it on the grounds that variations
in the lunar surface were due to varying degrees of “density”.
The pope threatened Galileo Galilei with torture
Fortunately, Galileo still had friends in the Vatican. Many of the scholars had great respect for Galilee and were saddened by what had now happened In addition, it could all soon be embarrassing – the church had explicitly given permission to print the book. In an attempt to prevent both parties from losing face, the Inquisitor wanted to “speak understanding with Galileo.” The conversation led to a tired, weary, and broken Galileo repenting of his sins.
“Since I had not seen the book in such a long time, it appeared to me as a new document written by another author. My fault has thus been – and I admit it – vain ambition, pure ignorance and ignorance “, he explained meekly.
The Inquisition took pity on him but the matter was not over. The pope still had the last word and Urban politically could not afford to show gentleness. In addition, he felt cheated by his old friend. Urban became increasingly angry at Galilei and threatened to have him tortured. It never went that far, but the pope made sure that Galileo’s career as an astronomer was over for good. In June 1633 he was taken to the monastery at the church of Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. There he received his sentence as “seriously suspected of heresy”. Dressed in penitential attire, he was forced to swear that he understood that he was doomed to have “considered and believed that the sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the world and moves.”
Expensive and holy, he promised that he: “with an honest and unadulterated heart curses and abhors the aforementioned errors and heresies. And I swear that in the future I will never say or defend anything like that again ”.
According to legend, Galileo ended his oath by whispering the words “E pur si muove!” – and yet she moves. The story would hardly be true because with such a statement he would probably have been led straight to the heretical fire.
The scholars of the world visited Galileo Galilei
The scientist was now referred to spend the rest of his life under house arrest in Florence. His days as an astronomer were over, but Galileo threw himself into various works in other scientific fields. Although he was formally forbidden to associate with other scientists, prominent guests made a pilgrimage to Galileo’s house. During his last years he was ill and completely blind.
“This universe, which I have magnified a thousand times with my observations and demonstrations, has now been reduced and reduced and shrunk to the miserable prison of my body,” he wrote in 1638.
Four years later, the great scientist fell asleep, surrounded by two assistants and his son Vincenzio. Galilei turned 78 years old. Lucas Holste, librarian at the Vatican, wrote a memoir that today has an almost prophetic tone:
“Today came the news of the loss of Galileo, which affects not only Florence but the whole world. Now that envy has come to an end, the superiority of this intellect will be known and will forever serve those who seek the truth. ”
In 1992, the Catholic Church regretted the Inquisition’s ruling through a statement issued by Pope John Paul II, and in 2000, the ruling was overturned.
Galilee’s genius inventions
1593 – Thermometer
Since the first century BC, science has known that water expands in heat. Galileo was one of the first to use this knowledge around 1593 to design a simple thermometer.
The instrument consisted of a piston equipped with a tube in which the water could rise as it got warmer. Then he provided the thermometer with a scale so that the heat could be read in numbers.
Later, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736) and Anders Celsius (1701–44) established scales that became generally accepted.
1594 – Pump and irrigation device
Venice’s arsenal, where the large ships were equipped, was a constant source of inspiration for Galileo. Here he got the idea for many inventions – including a horse-drawn pump.
The pump could also be used for irrigation of fields. Neither the drawing nor the model of the pump are preserved, but it is described in broad outline in the letter that in 1594 gave Galilei a patent for the invention.
1597-1599 – The geometric and military compass
This practical measuring instrument consisted of two joined rulers and an arc with graduation. There were also numbers and divisions on the rulers, and the compass served as a very advanced table or type of calculator.
With the compass, one could, among other things, calculate interest on interest, exchange rates, charges for cannons and scalable models for ship hulls. A total of 32 different “operations”, as Galileo called it, could be performed with the instrument.
The compass was invented in 1597 and took its final form two years later. After making the compass himself for a while, Galileo hired a gunsmith who moved in with him. The compass was accompanied by a detailed manual written by Galilei himself.
1624 – Microscope
After the Vatican had urged Galileo to be careful about what he wrote about heaven, he turned his attention to closer things. By rebuilding his telescope a bit, he discovered that it could be used to enlarge things considerably.
“I have observed many small animals with great pleasure,” he wrote. Galileo did not invent the microscope but was one of the first to use it scientifically.
1640 – Pendulum
According to Vincenzio Viviani – Galilei’s assistant and first biographer – Galilei invented a simple pendulum clock. In Galileo’s time, bells were very unreliable and according to Viviani, Galilei got the idea for the clock when one day he saw the chandeliers swinging on and off in the Cathedral of Pisa.
He discovered that the time the lamps swung had to do with how big the swing was and it gave him the idea that the regular movement of the pendulum should be able to be used to measure time.