The 15th of February 1564 saw the birth of Galileo Galilei or ‘the Father of Modern Science’. Galileo lived a life of great mathematical and astrological success, coupled with problems of money, marital difficulties, his own egotism, and confrontations with the Catholic Church. He provided evidence for and against various grounded scientific theories, and was able to disrupt perceptions about our earth, our universe and our existence in this solar system.
After being forced to leave the University of Pisa in 1585 without having formally finished his degree, Galileo began his work on objects in motion. These garnered some success, and eventually lead him to disprove Aristotelian theory about falling objects. Overturning Aristotelian science – the only scientific view condoned by the Church – brought Galileo arrogance along with success. He landed himself a teaching post at his old university, but after this discovery his contract was never renewed.
In 1609 Galileo heard about a rudimentary telescope created by Dutch eyeglass makers. Without having seen the design, Galileo developed one with three times the magnification. Later, Galileo improved upon the design, giving his telescope thirty times magnification and then turning it heavenwards. This offered him the ultimate tool to provide the evidence for a theory he had long supported: the Copernican notion that the earth was not the centre of the universe.
First proving that the moon was not flat, he continued to make discoveries: Venus has phases showing she revolves around the sun, Jupiter has four orbital moons which are definitely not revolving around the earth. This mounting evidence, however, pitted him against the Church. Galileo was ordered to stop writing, teaching or defending theories but, after a period of subordination, he published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which effectively presented a discussion between himself, the Church and an impartial party, undoubtedly in favour of his own view. He was subsequently put under house arrest.
Galileo ignored the orders of the Church and continued to write and conduct experiments up until his death in January 1642. The Church fully accepted heliocentrism in 1835.
IMAGE: Justus Sustermans