Galileo Galilei (Pisa, February 15, 1564 – Arcetri, January 8, 1642), was a Tuscan astronomer, philosopher, and physicist who is closely associated with the scientific revolution. His achievements include improving the telescope, a variety of astronomical observations, the first law of motion, and supporting Copernicanism effectively. He has been referred to as the “father of modern astronomy,” as the “father of modern physics,” and as “father of science.” His experimental work is widely considered complementary to the writings of Francis Bacon in establishing the modern scientific method. Galileo’s career coincided with that of Johannes Kepler. The work of Galileo is considered to be a significant break from that of Aristotle. In addition, his conflict with theRoman Catholic Church is taken as a major early example of the conflict of authority and freedom of thought, particularly with science, in Western society.
Galileo was born in Pisa, Italy, as the son of Vincenzo Galilei, a mathematician and musician.
He attended the University of Pisa, but was forced to “drop out” for financial reasons. However, he was offered a position on its faculty in 1589 and taught mathematics. Soon after, he moved to the University of Padua, and served on its faculty teaching geometry, mechanics, and astronomy until 1610. During this time he explored science and made many landmark discoveries.
In the pantheon of the scientific revolution, Galileo takes a high position because of his pioneering use of quantitative experiments with results analyzed mathematically. There was no tradition of such methods in European thought at that time; the great experimentalist who immediately preceded Galileo, William Gilbert, did not use a quantitative approach. However, Galileo’s father, Vincenzo Galilei, had performed experiments in which he discovered what may be the oldest known non-linear relation in physics, between the tension and the pitch of a stretched string. Galileo also contributed to the rejection of blind allegiance to authority (like the Church) or other thinkers (such as Aristotle) in matters of science and to the separation of science fromphilosophy or religion. These are the primary justifications for his description as “father of science.”
In the 20th century some authorities challenged the reality of Galileo’s experiments, in particular the distinguished French historian of science Alexandre Koyre. The experiments reported in Two New Sciences to determine the law of acceleration of falling bodies, for instance, required accurate measurements of time, which appeared to be impossible with the technology of the 1600s. According to Koyre, the law was arrived at deductively, and the experiments were merely illustrative thought experiments.
Later research, however, has validated the experiments. The experiments on falling bodies (actually rolling balls) were replicated using the methods described by Galileo (Settle, 1961), and the precision of the results was consistent with Galileo’s report. Later research into Galileo’s unpublished working papers from as early as 1604 clearly showed the reality of the experiments and even indicated the particular results that led to the time-squared law (Drake, 1973).
Although the popular idea of Galileo inventing the telescope is inaccurate, he was one of the first people to use the telescope to observe the sky. Based on sketchy descriptions of telescopes invented in the Netherlands in 1608, Galileo made one with about 8x magnification, and then made improved models up to about 20x. On August 25, 1609, he demonstrated his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers. His work on the device also made for a profitable sideline with merchants who found it useful for their shipping businesses. He published his initial telescopic astronomical observations in March 1610 in a short treatise entitled Sidereus Nuncius (Sidereal Messenger).
On January 7, 1610 Galileo discovered three of Jupiter’s four largest satellites (moons): Io, Europa, and Callisto. Ganymede he discovered four nights later. He determined that these moons were orbiting the planet since they would occasionally disappear; something he attributed to their movement behind Jupiter. He made additional observations of them in 1620. Later astronomers overruled Galileo’s naming of these objects, changing his Medicean stars to Galilean satellites. The demonstration that a planet had smaller planets orbiting it was problematic for the orderly, comprehensive picture of the geocentric model of the universe, in which everything circled around the Earth.
Galileo noted that Venus exhibited a full set of phases like the Moon. The heliocentric model of the solar system developed by 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.
rast, the geocentric model of Ptolemy predicted that only crescent and new phases would be seen, since Venus was thought to remain between the Sun and Earth during its orbit around the Earth. Galileo’s observation of the phases of Venus proved that Venus orbited the Sun and lent support to (but did not prove) the heliocentric model.
Galileo was one of the first Europeans to observe sunspots, although there is evidence that Chinese astronomers had done so before. The very existence of sunspots showed another difficulty with the perfection of the heavens as assumed in the older philosophy. And the annual variations in their motions, first noticed by Francesco Sizzi, presented great difficulties for either the geocentric system or that of Tycho Brahe. A dispute over priority in the discovery of sunspots led to a long and bitter feud with Christoph Scheiner; in fact, there can be little doubt that both of them were beaten by David Fabricius and his son Johannes.
He 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”, and not 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 also located many other stars too distant to be visible with the naked eye.
Galileo observed the planet Neptune in 1611, but took no particularnotice of it; it appears in his notebooks as one of many unremarkable dim stars.
Galileo’s theoretical and experimental work on the motions of bodies, along with the largely independent work of Kepler and Rene Descartes, was a precursor of the Classical mechanics developed by Sir Isaac Newton. He was a pioneer, at least in the European tradition, in performing rigorous experiments and insisting on a mathematical description of the laws of nature.
One of the most famous stories about Galileo is that he dropped balls of different masses from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that their velocity of descent was independent of their mass (excluding the limited effect of air resistance). This was contrary to what Aristotle had taught: that heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones, in direct proportion to weight. Though the story of the tower first appeared in a biography by Galileo’s pupil Vincenzo Viviani, it is not now generally accepted as true. However, Galileo did perform experiments involving rolling balls down inclined planes, which proved the same thing: falling or rolling objects (rolling is a slower version of falling) are accelerated independently of their mass.
He determined the correct mathematical law for acceleration: the total distance covered, starting from rest, is proportional to the square of the time (This law is regarded as a predecessor to the many later scientific laws expressed in mathematical form.). He also concluded that objects retain their velocity unless a force â€”often frictionâ€” acts upon them, refuting the accepted Aristotelian hypothesis that objects “naturally” slow down and stop unless a force acts upon them. This principle was incorporated into Newton’s laws of motion (1st law).
Galileo also noted that a pendulum’s swings always take the same amount of time, independently of the amplitude. While Galileo believed this equality of period to be exact, it is only an approximation appropriate to small amplitudes. It is good enough to regulate a clock, however, as Galileo may have been the first to realize. (See Technology below)
In the early 1600s, Galileo and an assistant tried to measure the speed of light.
Good on different hilltops, each holding a shuttered lantern. Galileo would open his shutter, and, as soon as his assistant saw the flash, he would open his shutter. At a distance of less than a mile, Galileo could detect no delay in the round-trip time greater than when he and the assistant were only a few yards apart. While he could reach no conclusion on whether light propagated instantaneously, he recognized that the distance between the hilltops was perhaps too small for a good measurement.
Galileo is lesser known for, yet still credited with being one of the first to understand sound frequency. After scraping a chisel at different speeds, he linked the pitch of sound to the spacing of the chisel’s skips (frequency).
In his 1632 Dialogue Galileo presented a physical theory to account for tides, based on the motion of the Earth. If correct, this would have been a strong argument for the reality of the Earth’s motion. (The original title for the book, in fact, described it as a dialogue on the tides; the reference to tides was removed by order of the Inquisition.) His theory gave the first insight into the importance of the shapes of ocean basins in the size and timing of tides; he correctly accounted, for instance, for the negligible tides halfway along the Adriatic Sea compared to those at the ends. As a general account of the cause of tides, however, his theory was a failure.
While Galileo’s application of mathematics to experimental physics was innovative, his mathematical methods were the standard ones of the day. The analyses and proofs relied heavily on the Eudoxian theory of proportion, as set forth in the fifth book of Euclid’s Elements. This theory had become available only a century before, thanks to accurate translations by Tartaglia and others; but by the end of Galileo’s life it was being superseded by the algebraic methods of Descartes, which a modern finds incomparably easier to follow.
Galileo produced one piece of original and even prophetic work in mathematics: Galileo’s paradox, which shows that there are as many perfect squares as there are whole numbers, even though most numbers are not perfect squares. Such seeming contradictions were brought under control 250 years later in the work of Georg Cantor.
Galileo made a few contributions to what we now call technology as distinct from pure physics, and suggested others. This is not the same distinction as made by Aristotle, who would have considered all Galileo’s physics as techne or useful knowledge, as opposed to episteme, or philosophical investigation into the causes of things.
In 1595-1598, Galileo devised and improved a “Geometric and Military Compass” suitable for use by gunners and surveyors. This expanded on earlier instruments designed by Niccolo Tartaglia and Guidobaldo del Monte. For gunners, it offered, in addition to a new and safer way of elevating cannons accurately, a way of quickly computing the charge of gunpowder for cannonballs of different sizes and materials. As a geometric instrument, it enabled the construction of any regular polygon, computation of the area of any polygon or circular sector, and a variety of other calculations.
About 1606-1607 (or possibly earlier), Galileo made a thermometer, using the expansion and contraction of air in a bulb to move water in an attached tube.
In 1609, Galileo was among the first to use a refracting telescope as an instrument to observe stars, planets or moons.
In 1610, he used a telescope as a compound microscope, and he made improved microscopes in 1623 and after.
This appears to be the first clearly documented use of the compound microscope.
In 1612, having determined the orbital periods of Jupiter’s satellites, Galileo proposed that with sufficiently accurate knowledge of their orbits one could use their positions as a universal clock, and this would make possible the determination of longitude. He worked on this problem from time to time during the remainder of his life; but the practical problems were severe. The method was first successfully applied by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1681 and was later used extensively for land surveys; for navigation, the first practical method was the chronometer of John Harrison.
In his last year, when totally blind, he designed an escapement mechanism for a pendulum clock. The first fully operational pendulum clock was made by Christiaan Huygens in the 1650s.
He created sketches of various inventions, such as a candle and mirror combination to reflect light throughout a building, an automatic tomato picker, a pocket comb that doubled as an eating utensil, and what appears to be a ballpoint pen.
Galileo was a practicing Catholic, yet his writings on Copernican heliocentrism disturbed some in the Catholic Church who believed in a geocentric model of the solar system. They argued that heliocentrism was in direct contradiction of the Bible, at least as interpreted by the church fathers, and the highly revered ancient writings of Aristotle and Plato (especially among the Dominican order, facilitators of the Inquisition).
The geocentric model was generally accepted at the time for several reasons. By the time of the controversy, the Catholic Church had largely abandoned the Ptolemaic model for the Tychonian model in which the Earth was at the center of the Universe, the Sun revolved around the Earth and the other planets revolved around the Sun. This model is geometrically equivalent to the Copernican model and had the extra advantage that it predicted no parallax of the stars, an effect that was impossible to detect with the instruments of the time. In the view of Tycho and many others, this model explained the observable data of the time better than the geocentric model did. (That inference is valid, however, only on the assumption that no very small effect had been missed: that the instruments of the time were absolutely perfect, or that the Universe could not be much larger than was generally believed at the time. As to the latter, belief in the large, possibly infinite, size of the Universe was part of the heretical beliefs for which Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake in 1600.)
An understanding of the controversies, if it is even possible, requires attention not only to the politics of religious organizations but to those of academic philosophy. Before Galileo had trouble with the Jesuits and before the Dominican friar Caccini denounced him from the pulpit, his employer heard him accused of contradicting Scripture by a professor of philosophy, Cosimo Boscaglia, who was neither a theologian nor a priest. The first to defend Galileo was a Benedictine abbot, Benedetto Castelli, who was also a professor of mathematics and a former student of Galileo’s. It was this exchange that led Galileo to write the Letter to Grand Duchess Christina. (Castelli remained Galileo’s friend, visiting him at Arcetri near the end of Galileo’s life, after months of effort to get permission from the Inquisition to do so.)
However, real power lay with the Church, and Galileo’s arguments were most fiercely fought on the religious level. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century historian Andrew Dickson White wrote from an anti-clerical perspective:
The war became more and more bitter. The Dominican Father Caccini preached a sermon from the text, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” and this wretched pun upon the great astronomer’s name ushered in sharper weapons; for, before Caccini ended, he insisted that “geometry is of the devil,” and that “mathematicians should be banished as the authors of all heresies.” The Church authorities gave Caccini promotion.
Father Lorini proved that Galileo’s doctrine was not only heretical but “atheistic,” and besought the Inquisition to intervene.
hop of Fiesole screamed in rage against the Copernican system, publicly insulted Galileo, and denounced him to the Grand-Duke. The Archbishop of Pisa secretly sought to entrap Galileo and deliver him to the Inquisition at Rome. The Archbishop of Florence solemnly condemned the new doctrines as unscriptural; and Paul V, while petting Galileo, and inviting him as the greatest astronomer of the world to visit Rome, was secretly moving the Archbishop of Pisa to pick up evidence against the astronomer.
But by far the most terrible champion who now appeared was Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, one of the greatest theologians the world has known. He was earnest, sincere, and learned, but insisted on making science conform to Scripture. The weapons which men of Bellarmin’s stamp used were purely theological. They held up before the world the dreadful consequences which must result to Christian theology were the heavenly bodies proved to revolve about the Sun and not about the Earth.
Their most tremendous dogmatic engine was the statement that “his pretended discovery vitiates the whole Christian plan of salvation.” Father Lecazre declared “it casts suspicion on the doctrine of the incarnation.” Others declared, “It upsets the whole basis of theology. If the Earth is a planet, and only one among several planets, it can not be that any such great things have been done specially for it as the Christian doctrine teaches. If there are other planets, since God makes nothing in vain, they must be inhabited; but how can their inhabitants be descended from Adam? How can they trace back their origin to Noah’s ark? How can they have been redeemed by the Saviour?” Nor was this argument confined to the theologians of the Roman Church; Melanchthon, Protestant as he was, had already used it in his attacks on Copernicus and his school. (White, 1898; online text)
In 1616, the Inquisition warned Galileo not to hold or defend the hypothesis asserted in Copernicus’s On the Revolutions, though it has been debated whether he was admonished not to “teach in any way” the heliocentric theory. When Galileo was tried in 1633, the Inquisition was proceeding on the premise that he had been ordered not to teach it at all, based on a paper in the records from 1616; but Galileo produced a letter from Cardinal Bellarmine that showed only the “hold or defend” order.