15 February 2016

Galileo Galilei – astronomer and physicist

Scholar has been judged to be the founder of modern science 

A portrait of Galileo Galilei painted
in 1636 by Justus Sustermans 
Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei was born on this day in 1564 in Pisa. 

His astronomical observations confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter and analysed sunspots. Also among his inventions was a military compass.

Galileo was educated at a monastery near Florence and considered entering the priesthood but he enrolled instead at the University of Pisa to study medicine.

In 1581 he noticed a swinging chandelier being moved to swing in larger and smaller arcs by air currents. He experimented with two swinging pendulums and found they kept time together although he started one with a large sweep and the other with a smaller sweep. It was almost 100 years before a swinging pendulum was used to create an accurate timepiece.

He talked his father into letting him study mathematics and natural philosophy instead of medicine and by 1589 had been appointed to the chair of Mathematics at Pisa.

He moved to the University of Padua where he taught geometry, mechanics and astronomy until 1610.

Galileo met with opposition from other astronomers and was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615. He supported the theory that the sun was at the centre of the solar system.

He was tried by the Inquisition, forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

But during that time he wrote one of his finest works, Two New Sciences, about the laws of motion and the principles of mechanics.

Galileo died in Arcetri, south of Florence, in Tuscany in 1642.

Pisa's famous leaning tower in the Piazza
 dei Miracoli. Photo: Softeis (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Pisa, the town of Galileo’s birth, is famous the world over for its leaning tower, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy . Already tilting when it was completed in 1372, the bell tower of the cathedral is in Piazza del Duomo, also known as Piazza dei Miracoli, in the centre of Pisa.

Travel tip:

The Museo Galileo in Florence is in Piazza dei Giudici close to the Uffizi Gallery. It houses one of the biggest collections of scientific instruments in the world in Palazzo Castellani, an 11th century building. The museum is open Mondays to Sundays from 9.30 to 18.00, closing at 13.00 on Tuesdays. 


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