Galileo’s big day

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, January 9, 2009

Campanile of St. Mark'sOnce a week I’ll pick an image from a recent trip of mine that will cast some light on an astronomical subject — or maybe sometimes it’ll just be a cool image that will stray a little from astronomy.

To start things off, here’s an important place: St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. The tower shown at right is the Campanile of St. Mark’s, the (reconstructed) tower where Galileo first demonstrated his brand-new telescope. It’s an amazing story:

Stunned by news of a freshly invented telescope and the possibility of a Dutch lens maker showing it to the Doge in Venice, Galileo rushed home to Padua and, from only what he had heard, August 2–3, 1609, invented his own telescope. He used a well-placed friend in Venice to cancel the Doge’s appointments, craftily locking out the Dutchman. After returning to Venice August 25, he marched the Doge, his assistants, and the Venetian naval commanders up the tower and showed them views of distant cities, ships on the horizon, and parishioners entering a church on the island of Murano, all of which had been invisible to the eye alone.

The Doge was awestruck. The military had a powerful new secret weapon. Venice was confirmed again as a triumph. Galileo presented the Doge with the telescope on his knees and received a doubled salary, a lifetime appointment, and a bonus amounting to a year’s wages.

By the fall of 1609, Galileo would, in a moment of wonder, slide his telescope toward the Moon. The world would then change forever.

And by the way, the kid in the foreground is my son Chris.

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