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Galileo Galilei was an Italian scientist and astronomer most famous for his observations of the moons of Jupiter which provided support for the Copernican heliocentric (Sun-centered) model and changed the way we think about the structure of our universe. As well as his fundamental work on observational astronomy, he also made large contributions in the field of kinematics.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei was an Italian polymath who made many contributions to many areas of physics, math, and astronomy. He was born on February 15, 1564.

It has long been told that Galileo dropped objects of different masses off the leaning tower of Pisa. While this story is very unlikely to be true, Galileo did study the motion of accelerating objects in a different way. He carried out an experiment looking at balls of different masses running down a slope, having the objects accelerate down an inclined plane, which made it easy to measure the time intervals. He found that the mass of the ball did not affect the time it took to roll down the ramp. This contradicted the Aristotelian notion that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects.

Galileo heard of the newly invented telescope and built his own improved version. He sold many of these telescopes to merchants who found them very useful at sea. He used the telescope to make observations of the night sky. While studying Jupiter he noticed that there were four objects orbiting the planet. These would later be found out to be the four most massive Jovian moons: Io, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. This provided evidence which proved the geocentric theory of the structure of the universe couldn’t be correct and provided support for the heliocentric model.

In 1616 he was summoned to Rome by the Catholic Church and told not to teach or write about it. They did not agree with his view as it didn’t fit with the biblical view of the structure of the universe. He continued to write about it as a mathematical proposition and Galileo was found guilty of heresy and was placed under house arrest until his death on January 8, 1642 in Arcetri, Italy. It was not until 1992 that the Catholic Church apologized for their investigation into Galileo.

Galileo continued to make observations of celestial objects and making notes about them. He discovered that the surface of the moon is rough and not smooth as people had thought. He also discovered that Venus has phases just like our moon does.

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Galileo’s Significant Accomplishments

  • Experiments showing all objects fall at the same speed, regardless of mass
  • Galileo Telescope
  • Discovery of the moons of Jupiter, providing evidence to refute the geocentric model

Galileo Galilei Quotes

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him.”

Learn more about people who have influenced history in our Picture Encyclopedia!
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