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The earth moves just the same

Modern astronomy, one of the sublime of sciences, owes a great gratitude to Galileo Galilee who lived in Italy from 1564 to 1642. The Italian astronomer and philosopher was born in Pisa on 15 February 1564. We remember Galileo in the 21st century for two reasons. Firstly, Galileo's contribution to astronomy in particular and science in general is phenomenal. Secondly, he was an astronomer who was thoroughly misunderstood during his time. Galileo was not only one of the greatest of scientific pioneers, but also an astronomer who showed us a new world. In fact, he paved the way for Newton.

Galileo was a promising student who showed signs of genius at a very young age. Young Galileo used to make little instruments and pieces of machinery that baffled his friends. He was admitted to the University of Pisa in 1581 as a student of art. While studying medicine Galileo devoted his time and energy for geometry. Greek mathematician Archimedes had a profound influence on Galileo. However, he crossed swords with another Greek philosopher Aristotle. Galileo found certain `absurdities' in Aristotle's theories. This provoked the followers of Aristotle in Italy. Despite such opposition, he was appointed as the Professor of Mathematics at the same university.

Galileo did not confine his findings to theory. He did experiments and showed that his theories are tenable. For instance, Aristotle believed that the heavier of two objects would hit the ground before the other. Galileo proved that all objects falling through the same height would hit the ground at the same time. To prove his theory, he dropped two objects of equal weight from the top of the leaning tower of Pisa. Unimpressed by such scientific experiments, his detractors plotted to overthrow him from the professor's post. When he resigned from the post he was appointed as a professor at a university in Padua.

He invented the modern telescope in 1609 and began to study the heavenly bodies. People from all walks of life flocked to his house to see the marvellous instrument.

One day he had been detained by a large crowd in the street for more than six hours because everybody wanted to use the wonderful instrument.

Galileo Galilee

At this time a new object appeared in the sky. Some astronomers saw it as a meteor. Using his newly invented telescope Galileo proved that it was not a meteor, but a star beyond the known solar system. Although the telescope made him famous in the ancient world, it also brought him some misery. When he published his findings after laborious experiments using the telescope, he was branded a heretic. It was at this time the church took a stand against him.The whole conflict between Galileo and the church arose out of his defence and teaching of the heliocentric theory.

According to this theory, the sun remains a fixed object and the earth is in motion. The accepted theory at that time was that of Ptolemy who said that everything revolved round the earth. The church too found that Galileo's theory was going against the Holy Scripture. It said that Galileo's proposition was "absurd in philosophy." He was soon summoned to the palace of Cardinal Bellarmin and was officially warned not to "hold, teach or defend" the condemned doctrine. While he was being taken from the palace, Galileo said, "Eppur si muove" (But it moves just the same!) meaning that the earth moves round the sun.

In 1632 Galileo published "The Dialogue of the Two Principal Systems of the World" and created quite a stir in the establishment. When he was summoned before the Inquisition of Rome, he tried to defend his theory. However, he was forced to admit his "fault" and was sentenced to imprisonment. Fortunately, he was allowed to retire to his own villa at Arceti instead of being taken to the prison. For more than seven years he remained silent leading a life of studious retirement.

Although he was getting old, Galileo did not give up writing. At one stage he went blind and dictated his theories to his students. However, he could not hold on to life for long. He was struck down by a slow fever in 1642.

After 367 years of his death, the church has formally pardoned Galileo for his "absurd philosophy". However, today we remember Galileo because he was a leading astronomer who revolutionised the world of science. He found mountains on the moon, the ring of Saturn and the spots on the sun.

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