It's a beautiful morning in Denver, despite the fact it's the middle of February. For you big kids, today is the last day to sign up for health insurance (but I promise we're not here to talk about that). This day also happens to mark the anniversary of Galileo Galilei's birth - he would have been 451 today!
Well, Galileo certainly isn't alive anymore, so he doesn't much need a birthday celebration. However, just because he's not around to join in on the fun doesn't mean we can't talk about what a cool guy he was! Join us in honoring the birth of one of the most influential scientists of all time.
You may have heard that Galileo invented the telescope, but that is not actually true. It's hard to know exactly who first came up with the idea, as science was making such great leaps at the time. Hans Lippershey was the first man to apply for a patent on a telescopic design, and when Galileo caught wind of the invention, he came up with his own improved version without having even seen another.
Though he is not the true inventor of the telescope, Galileo did design the first pendulum clock, crafted unique military compasses, and made an early thermometer.
He may not have been the guy to create the telescope, but Galileo was the first person, that we know of, to point the lens of his telescope to the sky and record his findings. Through his telescopes, Galileo discovered the four largest moons around Jupiter--now called the Galilean moons--and made observations of the geography of our moon. He also noted the phases of Venus, discovered sunspots, and found more evidence that Earth was not the center of the Universe, contrary to the popular belief of the time.
While he spent much of his time looking toward the heavens, Galileo also made great observations of our own world. Aristotle taught that objects fall at different rates depending on their mass--that is to say a heavier rock will fall faster than a pebble. Galileo experimented with this theory and found it to be false.
There is some speculation as to how and where the experiments were conducted. A popular story tells that he stood at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to drop weighted balls and record their acceleration. Other accounts are of the balls rolling down ramps to be observed. Either way, Galileo became one of the most prominent Aristotelian challengers when he noted that the rate of acceleration was almost exactly the same, regardless of density.
Galileo clearly loved to unveil truths. He was a curious man, eager to understand our world and our place in the Universe. Unfortunately, there were other influential people of his time who were not so glad for new discoveries.
The Catholic Church once believed the Ptolemaic theory--that everything in the Universe revolved around Earth. As we mentioned in Galileo's astronomical explorations, he found evidence that this theory was, indeed, not a solid one. At the time, the Copernican theory was the only viable theory in light of this new evidence, posing that everything must orbit the sun.
The Church didn't take his findings very well. Galileo had been told in 1616 to leave the Copernican theory alone, so when light was shed on these new revelations, he was tried by the Inquisition and, in June of 1633, convicted of heresy. For trying to explain our place in space, Galileo Galilei was sentenced to house arrest until his death in 1642.
It took over 350 years for the Church to clear Galileo's name.
Galileo as a physicist, astronomer, and philosopher did many great things for those who would come after him, for modern science, for us. Though he's not with us to celebrate his birthday today, we can carry on his legacy by learning more about his contributions and working hard to make sure no other great minds are limited by the doctrines of others.