Galileo Term Paper

Pages: 12 (3484 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Astronomy

Galileo was certainly one of the most formative and important figures in the history of science -- among the inventions and contributions to science attributable to him are the refinement of lens-grinding and telescope making technologies as well as the creation of the scientific method in any real and meaningful form, and, certainly neither last nor least among his discoveries, the discovery of four of Jupiter's moons and their retrograde-motion which served to him as one of the many proofs and evidences suggesting that the Copernican hypothesis about the solar system was the correct one. Indeed, his continuing popularity and pervasiveness as a scientific and intellectual figure is only further evidenced by the fact that his life has been recently dramatized in the imaginary memoir, Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel, in which Sobel attempts to recount the thoughts of Galileo's daughter and details her reactions to their correspondence in this impressive and imaginative work. For these reasons the details surrounding Galileo's own increasing conviction of the correctness of the Copernican version of the design of the solar system as well as the Catholic Church's response by accusing him of and trying him for heresy, as well as his eventual and evasive abjuration, all continue to be of an importance than transcends the category of mere historical interest. Indeed, Galileo's trial reveals much about the very founding principles of science and shows us much about how we think today by showing us how much the way that we think about the world has evolved and changed since his lifetime.

Galileo, of course, is known not only as the father of the telescope and the scientific method, but also as someone who not only endorsed quietly, but, in fact openly supported a model that was radically different from the classical Ptolemeic model that was also the model that was used by the church and which held that the earth was, in fact, the center of the universe and that all of the stars and planets and other element sin the evening sky were part of the nine celestial spheres that orbited around the earth regularly, resultant in what we often hear described as the "celestial music." Indeed, this sort of approach to astronomy was digressed upon at length by a number of thinkers and artists extremely important to the history of the church -- not only were such questions hotly debated by medieval philosophers who viewed their astrological viewings and works as one that had both scientific and theological resonance, but also poets of the day, such as Dante, for example, expounded upon the beauty of the celestial sphere in his enormous section of the Divine Comedy known as Paradiso. Indeed, Galileo held to this belief in the course of his life (although he renounced such a belief after a fashion in order to avoid death by the inquisition) for many reasons. Perhaps the most famous of these reasons was his observation of the retrograde movement of bodies in the night sky that turned out to be the moons of Jupiter. Nonetheless, his reasoning also was supported by other ideas, specifically, he had a groundbreaking theory about the causation of the tides of the earth:

He noticed that whenever the barge's speed or direction altered, the freshwater inside sloshed around accordingly. If the vessel suddenly ground to a halt on a sandbar, for instance, the water pushed up towards the bow then bounced back toward the stern, doing this several times with ever decreasing agitation until it returned to a level state.

Galileo realized that the Earth's dual motion -- its daily one around its axis and its annual one around the sun -- might have the same effect on oceans and other great bodies of water as the barge had on its freshwater cargo. The key, as Galileo saw it, was that even though we don't sense it, different parts of our planet move at different speeds depending on the time of day. it's as if the Earth were a barge, which sped up, slowed down, and periodically changed direction.


The interesting, of course, is that Galileo was exceptionally wrong in this particular idea. There were, even from the get-go a whole slew of theoretical and observational problems that seriously and terminally plagued his hypothesis, but regardless of those phenomena, Galileo felt that his answer was more correct than the going idea, which had been supplied by the mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler. Indeed, Galileo's ideas, for example should have predicted only one high tide per day, when in fact there are two, and Newtonian physics would eventually vindicate the Kepplerian idea of tidal motion (Tyson). Part of the reason for his objection to the Keplerian notion that the moon created tides through some form of "attractiveness" was that, by adhering to the scientific method, Galileo refused to believe in forces that could not be empirically observed and thus, since this antedated Newton's explanation of gravity the lunar explanation of the ides as offered by Keppler seemed to Galilieo as if they were "occult" beliefs rather than scientific and empirical facts about the world (Tyson). If nothing else this is an excellent illustration of the fact that correct method does not always lead to correct answers and that sometimes even those preceding by an incorrect argument that is not yet wholly formed may still arrive at a notion that approximates the truth. Nonetheless, Galileo persevered with his own idea and even though it argued persuasively for the correctness of the Copernican vision of the scheme for the design and movement of the solar system (Tyson).

Of course, there was no particular discovery that could possibly have had a more smashing, effective, and massive effect on Galileo's perception that the Ptolemeic version of the design for the solar system was incorrect and that the Copernican schema for the construction of the Universe was correct that his discovery of the moons of Jupiter, which enabled him to discover an exception that flew so massively in the face of the received notions about how the solar system was constructed that he was forced to part irrevocably from the original conception of the solar system that was the reigning model of Galileo's day. Indeed, Galileo did observe the existence and then the eventual orbiting of four of the moon so Jupiter, being Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, all of which were some of the most important discoveries in the history of astronomy. What he noted moreover, about these planets was that the moved in retrograde fashion -- meaning that sometimes their motion appeared to occur in reverse of the motion of the rest of the objects in the solar system. After contemplating this retrograde motion of Jupiter's moons, Galileo was eventually able to attribute the irregularity to the development of a theory in which he hypothesized that the objects he observed were not knew heavenly bodies orbiting the earth, per se, but rather moons which were orbiting the larger Jupiter. Once Galileo realized that there were other bodies in the solar system that did not orbit the earth as the center pointing its orbit, it was very easy to see that the Potelmeic model of the heavens was very probably incomplete, and, more specifically, probably in error. Indeed, he wrote a letter in which he enclosed a brief summary of his findings and also explained the most rudimentary elements of his conclusions, as well:

should disclose and publish to the world the occasion of discovering and observing four Planets, never seen from the beginning of the world up to our own times, their positions, and the observations made during the last two months about their movements and their changes of magnitude; and I summon all astronomers to apply themselves to examine and determine their periodic times, which it has not been permitted me to achieve up to this day... On the 7th day of January in the present year, 1610, in the first hour of the following night, when I was viewing the constellations of the heavons through a telescope, the planet Jupiter presented itself to my view, and as I had prepared for myself a very excellent instrument, I noticed a circumstance which I had never been able to notice before, namely that three little stars, small but very bright, were near the planet; and although I believed them to belong to a number of the fixed stars, yet they made me somewhat wonder, because they seemed to be arranged exactly in a straight line, parallel to the ecliptic, and to be brighter than the rest of the stars, equal to them in magnitude...When on January 8th, led by some fatality, I turned again to look at the same part of the heavens, I found a very different state of things, for there were three little stars allwest of Jupiter, and nearer together than on the previous night.

Galileo, as quoted in Baalke)

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Galileo.  (2003, November 26).  Retrieved December 9, 2018, from

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"Galileo."  November 26, 2003.  Accessed December 9, 2018.