118 years of Trust Fact File THE TRIBUNE
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Saturday, January 16, 1999





Galileo Galilei
By Illa Vij

GALILEO, a great benefactor to mankind, was a brilliant scholar. Born to a merchant of Pisa, on February 15, 1564, he became one of the greatest philosophers and inventors of the world. Galileo’s father was an educated man and wrote on the science of music. He gave his son the best education that could be given at that time.

Galileo attended the services of the Cathedral of Pisa. One day, he made a remarkable observation in the cathedral. An attendant lit the lamp which was suspended from the roof. To light it, he drew it to himself and then let it swing back. Galileo noticed the swing — a wide arc first and then a smaller arc. He had no watch so he felt his pulse. He was surprised to find that whether the arc was wide or small, it took the same time.

On reaching home, he experimented with what came to be called the pendulum. Soon, physicians began using it to count the heartbeat of the patients and clock makers used it to keep time. Galileo’s father wanted him to study medicine but the young lad was more interested in drawing and mathematics. Around the age of 25 years, he was appointed a teacher of mathematics in the University of Pisa. Galileo studied the writings of Aristotle, but he was not satisfied with some of his theories. He wanted to experiment for himself. Aristotle had said that if two weights of the same material were dropped from the same height, the heavier one would reach the ground faster than the lighter one. In proportion to the difference in weight, Galileo thought differently.He took some students and climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He carried a 10-pound shot and a one-pound shot. He made them fall together and both struck the ground together, thus proving Galileo correct and Aristotle wrong. His sarcasm towards people who disagreed with his theory made him unpopular and he resigned from the university in 1591.

In 1592, Galileo was appointed to the chair of mathematics in Padua. Galileo’s telescopic discoveries were his most important contributions to science. In 1609, he built his first telescope. He made observations and noted evidence to prove that many of Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s claims were untrue. Galileo found that unlike their claim that the moon was very smooth, it was pitted and mountainous like the earth. On January 7, 1610, he saw Jupiter’s satellites for the first time. He found that like the earth has one moon, Jupiter has four satellites. He even observed how long it took, for each body to revolve around its parent body. One took 42 hrs and the others took 17 days. He also saw sunspots on the sun. That very year he left Padua and went to Florence and then visited Rome with his telescope.

He adopted the Copernican theory that the sun was the centre of the universe but the fear of ridicule prevented him from advocating it. But in 1613, he took a stand and openly supported the Copernican theory.

The papal authorities noticed the discrepancies between his doctrine and some of the passages of their scriptures.He was warned not to hold, teach or defend the condemned theory. There was peace for a while and no major conflict arose. But a few years later, he published Dialogue on Two World Systems. This broke out a storm and he was summoned to Rome.

In 1633, he was forced to recant his statements and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Being old and unwell, he was permitted to return to Florence. He was imprisoned in a villa outside Florence and he passed the rest of the years of his life in seclusion. When he lost his daughter whom he loved deeply, he plunged into despair, and his failing health worsened. He became deaf and blind in 1637. Yet with great fervour, he continued to work. He died of a slow fever on January 7, 1642.

Galileo was a man who insisted upon the need to experiment, observe and then conclude. It is sad that he had to suffer for his love for truth and his courage to speak the truth. He was courageous and full of energy, and fought against all odds till the end of his life.back

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