Galileo Galilei (1565-1642) was one of the most innovative thinkers in the scientific community, playing a major role in the scientific revolution of the Renaissance period. In fact, he is said to have been the father of modern science. Innumerable advancements have been made in various fields of science because of his discoveries. Though he is celebrated today, Galileo experienced a great amount of tribulation while attempting to publicize his work in the 17th century.
Galileo, the son of a famous musician, was born in Pisa, Italy and attended the University of Pisa. In addition to his achievements in the field of physics, he is most famous for claiming to have made observations that support the heliocentric views of Copernicus. He spent his spare time designing and building telescopes, with which he used to observe moon craters, sunspots, and the phases of Venus (Unknown, 2016).
In the 17th century, the popular philosophy was that of the Catholic Church, which had been accepted as fact for over 2,000 years: the heavens are perfect and unchangeable. According to their Ptolemaic view, the Earth was the center of the universe. Contrary to these long-standing beliefs, Galileo’s observations indicated that the universe is in constant motion, and the Earth is not the center of it all (Zax, 2009).
The Catholic Church was infuriated with Galileo’s heretic findings and in 1615, Pope Paul V banned his spreading of Copernican theory. In 1633, Galileo was put on trial and sentenced to prison for life, but was later sentenced to house arrest instead. During his imprisonment, he published his most important scientific work, The Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences (1638). This is composed in a style similar to his previous works, with the three main characters being Simplicio, Sagredo, and Saliati. These characters represent Galileo’s early beliefs, middle period, and newer revelations, respectively. As a result, this work encompasses the previous thirty years he spent gathering knowledge concerning the realm of physics and mathematics. He attempted to first publish his final work in France, Germany, and Poland, but his attempts failed due to the opposition of the Church. The book was finally published in Holland. He later died of fever and heart palpitations in 1642 (Zax, 2009).
Today, Galileo is regarded as one of the brightest minds in the world of science. On October 31, 1992, Pope John Paul II acknowledged, on behalf of the Catholic Church, the errors committed by the tribunal that judged Galileo based on his scientific position. After over 300 years, the church finally recognized the truth behind Galileo’s then heretic claims (Unknown, 2016).
Galileo is even mentioned in the world of pop culture, as Queen famously sang “Galileo Figaro Magnifico” in the 1975 hit song “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Additionally, he has been mentioned in the Indigo Girl’s song, “Galileo.” Award-winning science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a novel, entitled Galileo’s Dream, about Galileo coming to the future to help with scientific issues (Van Helden, 2016).
Albert Einstein referred to Galileo as the father of modern science, and Stephen Hawking claimed that he was responsible for the birth of modern physics. “So great a contribution to physics was Two New Sciences that scholars have long maintained that the book anticipated Isaac Newton’s laws of motion,” Hawking explained. The four largest moons of Jupiter, discovered by Galileo, have since been dubbed the Galilean moons (Unknown, 2016).
Whether he is recognized by pop artists, authors, or legendary physicists, it is common knowledge that because of Galileo, we have been able to make a countless amount of modern scientific advances and discoveries. We do not seek to diminish his work, as the Catholic Church of the 17th century attempted, but we instead use his findings as the foundation for modern science today.