400 years ago, this very night

400 years ago on the night of January 7th, 1610 a man from Pisa, Italy took a newly-made telescope with a magnifying power of 33X, pointed it at one of the brighter lights in the sky, and irrevocably changed our view of the physical universe. This man of course, was Galileo Galilei and he discovered that bright light — the planet jupiter — had four smaller lights that he detected orbiting it over the next few days.

Up until then the scientific view of the universe was based on the studies of Ptolemy where earth was the center of the universe with heaven above us.  A Catholic Priest by the name of Nicholas Copernicus came along and put forward a theory that the ‘universe’ was really heliocentric — wherein the earth circles the sun rather than the other way around.  Trouble was, Copernicus couldn’t definitively prove his theory.  Galileo was the first to provide evidence for the Copernican revolution.  If Jupiter had moons orbiting it, then what was to prevent the earth from orbiting the sun?

This is what he saw (and drew) this very night 400 years ago:

In the drawing the abbreviations are latin for east and west, the asterisks representing jupiters moons (later named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto Io is behind Jupiter here) with the large disk being Jupiter.

A few days later he looked again and saw this:

Before Galileo went of the deep end, acting like an arrogant jerk and insulting the pope in some self published manuscripts, in a letter he quoted an Archbishop giving some good advice on science and the Bible: “The bible is a manual for how to get to heaven — not a handbook of how heaven goes.”

Much later on in the astronomical development, another Catholic Priest would posit a theory he also was unequipped to prove.  This theory contradicted the greatest theoretical physicist of his age, Albert Einstein.  Father Georges LeMaitre looked at Einstein’s work and realized that the Universe MUST be expanding.  If it was expanding– then how did it begin? Father posited it was a single event later nicknamed ‘The Big Bang.”  Einstein, realizing the theological implications of this, fought the theory and argued incorrectly, that the Universe was existing in a steady state, neither expanding nor contracting. It wasn’t until 1964 that two Bell Labs researchers trying to understand background static in radio transmissions realized they had stumbled upon the smoking gun of the creation of all things — cosmic background radiation.  Fr. LeMaitre learned of the proof for his theory shortly before he died in 1966.

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One Comment on “400 years ago, this very night”

  1. Mike Says:

    Thanks for this post as well. Very interesting.


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