Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642):

Nearly 400 years ago, an Italian mathematician told the world that the planets revolve around the sun. And he was severely punished for it. But he stood by his words and spent the last days of his life under house arrest. This was Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaulti de Galilei, or Galileo Galilei. Born on the 15th of February, 1564, Galileo was an Italian astronomer, physicist, and engineer.

Galileo has been called the father of observational astronomy, the father of modern physics, the father of modern science, and the father of scientific method. If this sounds too much, it may be worth remembering that this man gave the world the first thermometer as well as the concept of heliocentrism, or the idea that planets revolve around the sun. This made the priests rather unhappy because the Bible says that the Earth is at the center of the universe. He also created the microscope and various military compasses. As an astronomer, Galileo discovered sunspots, four of Jupiter’s largest satellites, and Saturn’s rings. He was also the first to state that mathematics lies at the center of all laws of nature.

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans [Image source](
Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans Image source

Galileo came from a family of musicians. He would have played the lute but started inventing things to earn extra money to give to his brother.

When Galileo wrote that the earth revolves around the sun, his writings were submitted to the Roman government. They created eighteen physical and mathematical arguments against Galileo’s theory as well as 4 religious arguments. On the basis of these, they deemed Galileo’s theories as an attack on religion and scientifically wrong. Galileo was punished for his writings and his books were never published. He was also told not to convince the public of his theories.

For the next 10 years, Galileo followed these rules. Then, his close friend and admirer became the pope. The pope gave Galileo permission to publish his next book. However, there was one condition. That he could not defend his previous theory. Galileo, of course, went on to do just that. He also took the liberty to insult the Italian government as well as the sitting pope.

This insult went a step too far. Galileo was once again brought before the government for trial. This time he was placed under permanent house arrest. All of his past work and any he would do in the future were banned. And, once again, he was told to abandon his ideas.

It was during this time of house arrest that Galileo created some of his finest work. He pieced together his past work on the geometry of movement and strength of materials. He also discovered and categorized four of Jupiter’s largest moons. Saturn’s rings and the phenomenon of sunspots.

Although Galileo received no awards during his lifetime, today he is beloved in the scientific community. He developed standardized measures of time and length so that he could reproduce his experiments in different laboratories at different times of the day. Today, it is this approach to science that the best scientists follow. And we have Galileo to thank for it. It would not be wrong to say that just as the planets go around the sun, modern mathematicians, physicists and astronomers go around Galileo.

Born: 15 February 1564, Pisa, Italy
Died: 8 January 1642, Arcetri, Italy
Education: University of Pisa (1581–1585)
Discovered: Ganymede, Europa, Io, Callisto, Rings of Saturn

More about Galileo Galilei

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Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
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Filed under: biographies
Tags: #biographies of scientists, #physicist, #compass, #geometry, #italy, #jupiter

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