All About Space

SECRET LIVES OF SPACE'S GREATEST HEROES

Galileo Galilei

The great Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo inherited his interest in science from his musical father. Vincenzo Galilei specialised in the lute, a distant relative of modern guitars, and was also a musical theorist who used experimentation and mathematics to identify a new law that correctly described the relationship between the tension on a string and its musical pitch. Vincenzo’s discoveries helped to inspire his son’s mathematical approach to problems of ‘natural philosophy’ and foreshadowed Galileo’s own struggles to overturn outdated views of the world.

At age 17, Galileo became a student in the University at Pisa, training in medicine at his father’s suggestion. He made his first great discovery – that a pendulum has a regular period regardless of the width of its oscillations – while watching a swinging lamp in Pisa Cathedral, and had soon turned it into a practical device for measuring a patient’s pulse. After persuading his father to let him pursue his interest in mathematics, he became a professor by the age of 25.

Throughout his life, Galileo was perpetually short of cash. His father’s death left him responsible for his mother and three younger siblings – and later his own partner and three children. He boosted his income by taking in private students and selling his inventions, and later took a better paid job at Padua in the Republic of Venice. It was here in 1609 that he got word of an amazing new invention from the Netherlands – the telescope.

Galileo immediately set out to make a telescope of his own, using lenses mounted at either end of

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