Galileo Galilei


Galileo Galilei Wow!

Galileo discovered four of Jupiter's moons almost four hundred years ago.

Galileo Galilei was an Italian physicist and astronomer. He was born in Pisa on February 15, 1564. Galileo's father, Vincenzo Galilei, was a well-known musician. Vincenzo decided that his son should become a doctor.

In 1581, Galileo was sent to the University of Pisa to study medicine. While a student at the university, Galileo discovered that he had a talent for mathematics. He was able to persuade his father to allow him to leave the university to become a tutor in mathematics. He later became a professor of mathematics.

In 1609, Galileo heard about the invention of the spyglass, a device which made distant objects appear closer. Galileo used his mathematics knowledge and technical skills to improve upon the spyglass and build a telescope. Later that same year, he became the first person to look at the Moon through a telescope and make his first astronomy discovery. He found that the Moon was not smooth, but mountainous and pitted - just like the Earth! He subsequently used his newly invented telescope to discover four of the moons circling Jupiter, to study Saturn, to observe the phases of Venus, and to study sunspots on the Sun.

Galileo's observations strengthened his belief in Copernicus' theory that Earth and all other planets revolve around the Sun. Most people in Galileo's time believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the Sun and planets revolved around it.

The Catholic Church, which was very powerful and influential in Galileo's day, strongly supported the theory of a geocentric, or Earth-centered, universe. After Galileo began publishing papers about his astronomy discoveries and his belief in a heliocentric, or Sun-centered, Universe, he was called to Rome to answer charges brought against him by the Inquisition (the legal body of the Catholic Church). Early in 1616, Galileo was accused of being a heretic, a person who opposed Church teachings. Heresy was a crime for which people were sometimes sentenced to death. Galileo was cleared of charges of heresy, but was told that he should no longer publicly state his belief that Earth moved around the Sun. Galileo continued his study of astronomy and became more and more convinced that all planets revolved around the Sun. In 1632, he published a book that stated, among other things, that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus was correct. Galileo was once again called before the Inquisition and this time was found guilty of heresy. Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1633. Because of his age and poor health, he was allowed to serve his imprisonment under house arrest. Galileo died on January 8, 1642.

A Question

Why did the Inquisition sentence Galileo to life imprisonment?

Boy holding calculator

Did you know?
Did you know?

Answer Button
The Answer


Show me the Level 1 version of this page.

The StarChild site is a service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/ GSFC.

StarChild Authors: The StarChild Team
StarChild Graphics & Music: Acknowledgments
StarChild Project Leader: Dr. Laura A. Whitlock
Curator: J.D. Myers
Responsible NASA Official: Phil Newman