Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a pivotal figure in the development of modern astronomy, both because of his contributions directly to astronomy, and because of his work in physics and its relation to astronomy. He provided the crucial observations that proved the Copernican hypothesis, and also laid the foundations for a correct understanding of how objects moved on the surface of the earth (dynamics) and of gravity.
Newton, who was born the same year that Galileo died, would build on Galileo's ideas to demonstrate that the laws of motion in the heavens and the laws of motion on the earth were one and the same. Thus, Galileo began and Newton completed a synthesis of astronomy and physics in which the former was recognized as but a particular example of the latter, and that would banish the notions of Aristotle almost completely from both.
One could, with considerable justification, view Galileo as the father both of modern astronomy and of modern physics.
Galileo did not invent the telescope. The Dutch, notably Christine Huygens, were the first to invent and experiment with lenses (to improve eye sight). But Galileo was the first to use the telescope to study the heavens systematically. His little telescope was poorer than even a cheap modern amateur telescope, but what he observed in the heavens rocked the very foundations of Aristotle's universe and the theological-philosophical worldview that it supported. It is said that what Galileo saw was so disturbing for some officials of the Church that they refused to even look through his telescope; they reasoned that the Devil was capable of making anything appear in the telescope, so it was best not to look through it. That is, the telescope was an instrument of the Devil. That such was so could be no clearer than the image of the moon as it appeard through Galileo's telescope:
Opps it does not appear that all of the objects in Aristotle's Universe are, in fact, perfect. The moon has defects!
Well if the moon had defects then Saturn was way whacked out:
Historical recreation of where the moons were at this time:
These observations again showed that there were new things in the heavens that Aristotle and Ptolemy had known nothing about. Furthermore, they demonstrated that a planet could have moons circling it that would not be left behind as the planet moved around its orbit. One of the arguments against the Copernican system (and the original heliocentric idea of Aristarchus) had been that if the moon were in orbit around the Earth and the Earth in orbit around the Sun, the Earth would leave the Moon behind as it moved around its orbit.
This observation was among the most important in human history, for it provided the first conclusive observational proof that was consistent with the Copernican system but not the Ptolemaic system. The crucial point is the empirical fact that Venus is never very far from the Sun, in terms of angular displacement, in our sky Thus, as the following diagrams indicate, in the Ptolemaic system Venus should always be in crescent phase as viewed from the Earth because as it moves around its epicycle it can never be far from the direction of the sun (which lies beyond it), but in the Copernican system Venus should exhibit a complete set of phases over time as viewed from the Earth because it is illuminated from the center of its orbit.
|Phases of Venus in the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems|
It is important to note that this was the first empirical evidence (coming almost a century after Copernicus) that allowed a definitive test of the two models. Until that point, both the Ptolemaic and Copernican models described the available data. The primary attraction of the Copernican system was that it described the data in a simpler fashion, but here finally was conclusive evidence that not only was the Ptolemaic universe more complicated, it also was incorrect.