I’ll get to the Galileo history lesson in just a moment, first a story.
Galileo became the center of a bit of controversy several years ago when Carl Sagan pronounced in his show, Cosmos, Galileo had been persecuted because of science and religious ignorance. This idea was picked up over and over again until in the mid-1990s the Indigo Girls wrote a song strongly implying Galileo was martyred for his scientific beliefs.
Only none of this is true.
Or it’s a gross exaggeration of the facts.
Who was Galileo?
Galileo was a scientist during the Renaissance in Italy. He discovered all sorts of interesting things.
He discovered two objects dropped from the same height will hit the ground at the same time regardless of their relative weights. He’s rumored to have discovered this by dropping objects off the Tower of Pisa. While this makes a colorful story, his notes show he discovered this another way.
Galileo is most famous for his astronomy work (and that’s where he gets into his fight later on). First, he refined the telescope, and made all sorts of discoveries, he discovered the Milky Way was made of stars, not just a white band. He discovered Jupiter’s moons.
Side note, if you’ve bought any sort of decent binoculars for yourself, then you have as good of a telescope as Galileo ever had. Go outside on a clear night, as far away from light as you can get and look for Jupiter. With some observation, you can see the Galilean moons. I remember going out and doing that in my backyard when I was in high school. It was the coolest thing ever. Since I haven’t tried since high school I don’t remember exact instructions, and none of my quick searches got me decent information.
Galileo named the newly discovered moons the Medicean stars after Lorenzo de Medici (probably hoping to gain a patron, and it worked after a fashion because Medici did later sponsor him). Future astronomers later renamed them Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Europa.
Galileo gets into a bit of a controversy
Also could be titled, when sarcasm gets Galileo in trouble
But what Galileo was most famous for was his declaration the earth revolved around the sun. This was the big scientific debate of the day. Famous astronomers of the time were arguing over this. Eventually, Galileo was called before the Inquisition and asked to justify himself.
And he did, he explained what he believed and why he believed it. The Inquisition said, “That’s okay, but we kinda think this is heretical, so can you talk about this as a theory,” so Galileo said, “I can do that.”
A few years roll by and Galileo is asked by the new Pope to write a paper explaining the difference between the heliocentric and geocentric theories. He asked Galileo to be very careful to not endorse either side.
Galileo thought he did that. But in writing, he accidentally portrayed the geocentric advocate as….. well stupid. Not only that, the name he gave the character translated to Stupid. It didn’t matter how often Galileo said, “I named him after an ancient philosopher,” everyone read the name and read “Stupid.” To make matters even worse some of the character’s words were quotes of the Pope.
Having made his friend good and mad Galileo appeared in front of the Inquisition again and was told: “Recant, you said you wouldn’t publicly affirm your views, and yet you published a book.”
Galileo argued for a very long time, “No what I did was write the two viewpoints and presented them in a fair manner.” But after hearing all of the arguments Galileo finally admitted he might not have been as balanced as he thought he was.
So, Galileo had to publicly recant yet again, and then he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. He still had access to all of the scientific journals, and all of the same people, but he was not allowed to travel. He wrote some of his best scholarly works while under house arrest.
One of my favorite stories in this whole thing is probably apocryphal, and my high school history teacher loved to say, “At the end of his trial for heresy, Galileo said, “The earth does not rotate around the sun.” The church was satisfied, and he walked out the door, but once he got to the door he paused, and said under his breath, “And yet it moves.”
Some great follow-ons to this Galileo lesson
Galileo makes a great study in the month of February because that is his birthday month.