The Scientific Revolution Reshapes the World: Galileo Galilei

By Olso, Richard G. | The World and I, April 1999 | Go to article overview

The Scientific Revolution Reshapes the World: Galileo Galilei


Olso, Richard G., The World and I


Galileo was the first of seven children of the musician Vincenzo Galilei and his noble-born wife, Julia. Born February 15, 1564, Galileo attended a monastic school at Vallombrosa before entering the University at Pisa in 1581, intending to study medicine. His interests, however, shifted toward mathematics and natural philosophy. After a brief period as a private tutor of mathematics, he accepted the chair of mathematics at Pisa in 1589, but two years later, he moved to the University of Padua. A highly gifted and charismatic teacher, Galileo was also arrogant, sarcastic, and argumentative. He gathered a large following of students, but among academic colleagues, he developed a reputation as a troublemaker.

In 1604, Galileo turned to astronomy and provided a mathematical demonstration that a newly visible bright star (probably a supernova) lay outside the system of planets. This finding implied that, contrary to Aristotelian ideas, changes did occur in the heavens. In 1609, after building a telescope similar to those being produced in the Netherlands, he began a period of spectacular astronomical observations. He discovered four moons circling Jupiter, mountains on the surface of our Moon, and the phases of Venus.

Galileo's discoveries netted him the patronage of the Medici family, as well as membership in the Accademia dei Lincei, a scientific academy sponsored by the Roman aristocrat Federico Cesi. He also received support from the major Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians at Rome and the friendship of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who would become Pope Urban VIII in 1624. …

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