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Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)

Galileo's best work came late in life. Aged forty, Galileo was a little known professor who had written one small pamphlet. By the time he was seventy, Galileo had created an intellectual storm throughout Europe—and been placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Galileo was born in Pisa, where he studied medicine and music. However his interest turned to physics, and he was appointed a professor at 25. Two years later he moved to Padua. Although he never married, Galileo fathered two daughters and a son in Padua.

Padua was also where Galileo made his most famous discoveries, through his use of the 'optic tube', or telescope. Galileo did not invent the telescope, but he did improve it and was one of the first to use it for astronomical observations.

Immediately Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and mountains on the Moon. Galileo thought that all of these discoveries supported Copernicus' idea of a Sun-centred solar system, and he said so publicly.

At this stage the Copernican system was not being suppressed by the Church. The trial of Galileo, and censorship of his book, probably had as much to do with his fiery personality as it was to do with his challenging message. Nonetheless, Galileo has remained ever since as a symbol of intellectual freedom.

In his later years, under house arrest, Galileo systematically developed his earlier work on mechanics, including pendulums, buoyancy and falling bodies. The mathematical expression and experimental work of Galileo and his students helped to begin the shift in scientific practice to be that was to be continued by scientists such as Descartes and Newton.


Galileo Galilei
magnifyGalileo Galilei


Replica of Galileo's telescope
magnifyReplica of Galileo's telescope


Galileo's drawing of the Moon
magnifyGalileo's drawing of the Moon
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