Majority of present day astronomers would tell you that Galileo
Galilei is the most influential person in the field of astronomy to have ever
lived. He used scientific methods to find out how the universe works and with
his contribution to observational astronomy, he earned his position as one of
the greatest scientists in the world and also the father of science (Shuttleworth).
Galileo Galilei was born in Italy a place known as Pisa, on 15th February 1564 to Vincenzo Galilei and Giulia Ammannati. Vincenzo Galilei was a famous musician, music theories, and an Italian lutenist. It is in the year 1574 that Galileo’s family moved to Florence where he started his formal education at Camaldolese monastery. In his growing up, he aspired to take up the priesthood, but his father wanted him to study medicine as it would reap financial benefits for his son in the future. Following his father’s wishes, Galileo took up medicine at the University of Pisa taking a degree in medicine. At the university, however, Galileo had a change of heart on the career path to take. The change was influenced by two incidents. The first one was in 1581 when he noticed for the first time that a chandelier took almost the same time to go back to its first position despite swinging in small and large arcs. The second event was when he accidentally attended a geometry lecture. He realized that he wanted to do something different other than medicine and therefore convinced his father to allow him to take up Mathematics and natural philosophy degree ("Galileo Biography").
After the university, Galileo set out to create a thermoscope which is the earlier version of the thermometer in use today. He also published a book highlighting his work on Hydrostatic balance and named it “The Little Balance.” It is through this book that Galileo became known among scholars at that time. Galileo also took up an instructor job at Accademia Delle Arti del Disegno in Florence where he taught perspective and chiaroscuro. The job was to help support himself as he studies Disegno which made him more interested in city’s artistic traditions. He also developed an immense interest in the Renaissance artists ("Galileo Galilei Biography").
In 1589, Galileo was promoted to chair the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Pisa. It is during this time that he conducted his widely known experiment of dropping objects of different weights from the peak of the Leaning Tower. Through this experiment, Galileo was able to counteract Aristotle’s theory that the speed of a falling object is directly proportional to its weight. The outcome of the research was written in a paper titled Du Motu (On Motion). Due to rejecting Aristotle’s claims, Galileo gained an unpopular status in the society. His stand led him to lose position at the University of Pisa, but through the help of his patrons, he was able to secure the chair of mathematics at the University of Padua where he served for eighteen years ("Galileo Galilei Biography").
At the University of Padua, Galileo taught geometry, astronomy, and mechanics to young students. The position at the University of Padua came at a crucial time when his father passed away, and he had to step up and head the family which meant more responsibility and more money. The university salary was not enough; hence, Galileo took up a teaching job at a privately owned boarding school where he earned extra coins to support the family (Shuttleworth).
It is during his time at the University of Padua that he made the groundbreaking discoveries that have put him the books of scientists today in the fields of practical applied science and pure fundamental science. Galileo discovered an instrument in Netherlands that magnified distant objects and made them seem closer. Galileo mastered the object which led him to make an improved version of the discovery. He learned the art of lens grinding which aided in producing a powerful telescope. Galileo presented this to Venetian Senate which was impressed by his invention and rewarded him by doubling his salary and increased his tenure to a lifetime. Galileo increasingly bettered the instrument that it could magnify up to 20 times. The telescope helped him in having a clear vision of the moon. It is also through this tool that uneven surface and the Moon’s rocky face came to be known ("Galileo Galilei Biography").
Galileo in 1610 discovered the moon revolving around the Jupiter. In addition, he claimed that there is an enormous amount of starts on the galaxy that are not visible to the naked eyes. He discovered that planet Venus goes through phases like the moon does and also the difference in appearance for the planet Saturn. The discoveries were written in a book titled Sidereus Nuncius’ (The Starry Messenger). Galileo dedicated the book to the grand duke of his native Tuscany Cosimo II de Medici. The duke in return and also due to the ground breaking earth discovery made by Galileo rewarded him with an appointment as mathematician and philosopher of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. His discovery dismissed Aristotelian cosmology and favored Copernicus’ theory which says that the sun is the center of the galaxy and that the earth is a planet among many others that revolve around the sun (Shuttleworth).
The discoveries that Galileo made and the books that he published formed a basis of the present-day astronomy. It is objects like a telescope that constitute the basis for new technology in astronomy. The contributions are the things that made him a legend and among the many things named after him are Asteroid 697, the Galileo spacecraft, Galilean transformation and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. He has over time been honored in novels, movies and plays that depict his life and his scientific philosophy ("Galileo Galilei Biography").
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