Astronomy and the science of our night sky has intrigued us since the dawn of time. The ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, and Romans, and even the Aztecs have been studying the stars and constellations extensively. When the Roman era ended, things related astronomy cooled down for a while. After the middle ages though, astronomy and our knowledge of the stars grew exponentially. Many astronomers and scientists lifted their heads and looked up to the night sky to study the Moon, the planets, and the stars. Of all these astronomers, one of the most influential ones was Galileo Galilei. This homo universalis, Renaissance man, lived in Tuscany from 1564 until 1642. He is considered one of the main players in the transition called the scientific revolution.
Galileo changed star charting
Galileo did more than just cameo in Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. It was long believed that he invented the telescope, but this is not true. THe first patent for a telescope was found in The Netherlands in 1608. He did however improve the existing design, coming out with his own telescope in 1609. He spent lots of time crafting and polishing his own lenses. The telescopes that were around in his time magnified up to 3 times. After Galileo was done working on his lenses, he managed to magnify up to 9 times. Eventually he got his telescope to enlarge the celestial bodies up to 30 times.
What he saw with all this extra magnifying power was pretty impressive. He was the first one to see the craters on the Moon. He managed to track the orbit of Venus, and he noticed something odd about Saturn. At that point he wasn’t aware that there were rings around Saturn, but he was the very first to see that there was even something around the planet. Another very impressive find by Galileo were the moons around Jupiter, which we nowadays call, very appropriately, Galilean moons. These moons are Io, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. NASA sent a satellite to Jupiter and called it Galileo in his honor.
Galileo and the Milky Way
While observing the moons around Jupiter, Galileo also mentioned a bright star that seemed to stay close to these celestial bodies. It is now believed that what he saw was actually Neptune. He also had a long good look at the Milky Way. Galileo was the first to establish that it was a galaxy with countless stars.
Galileo Galilei got into a lot of trouble with the church about his beliefs that the Earth orbited the Sun instead of the other way around. Although he wasn’t the first to coin this idea, he was very outspoken about it and the church wasn’t happy about this at all. The vision that Galileo had about the Earth, the stars, and the constellations is what we would consider a modern view. The Vatican wasn’t ready for such a revolutionary view. It took a long time before one could acknowledge what Galileo discovered without fearing the wrath of the church.