Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei (1565–1642), born outside of Pisa in Italy, has been called the father of modern physics, the father of modern of astronomy, and the father of modern science. A short list of his accomplishments includes the invention of the compound microscope, the discovery of moons around Jupiter, designs for the first pendulum clock, and the invention of a telescope that could see deeply into space. His scientific experiments laid the groundwork for modern scientific method, and his concept of inertia directly inspired Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.

But probably Galileo’s greatest accomplishment was the stand he took against the Roman Catholic Church of the Renaissance. At the time, it was considered an act of rebellion to teach that the sun was the center of the solar system, a theory that had originated with the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543). In keeping with a literal interpretation of the Bible, the theory condoned by the church was that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth. In his treatise Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo used the observations he made with his new telescope to defend Copernicus. During the Inquisition, the sixty-nine-year-old Galileo’s book was banned, and he was ordered to appear before the court in Rome. He was found guilty of defying church doctrine and sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was commuted to house arrest, and he died eight years later in his home near Florence, under the watch of Inquisition guards.

In 1992, 359 years after Galileo’s trial, Pope John Paul II formed a commission that recognized Galileo’s bravery and formally apologized for his punishment.

ADDITIONAL FACTS

  1. Galileo’s father discouraged him from studying mathematics. He wanted him to be a doctor.
  2. Galileo was the first person to report seeing mountains and valleys on the surface of the moon.
  3. Both of Galileo’s daughters were born out of wedlock and became nuns
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