Time and time throughout humanity, mankind has looked up at the sky in awe; many individuals in history have found feelings of wonder and amazement while learning or reviewing aspects of the night sky. Galileo Galilei of Florence, Italy was one of the greatest astronomers of all time, but to say all he accomplished in his life was in that field would be offensive; as well as being a proficient astronomer, Galileo was also a semi-successful physicist, mathematician, artist, philosopher, and engineer at various points in his life. By looking at Galileo’s contributions to various different fields of study, as well as his actions in his own personal life specifically around events of magnitude in his career, it is clear Galileo holds the title of “father of observational astronomy” for a reason. In order to first understand the significance of different moments in Galileo’s life (February 15th, 1564 to January 8th, 1642), it is important to understand how his life came about. Two of the few constants in Galileo’s early life were his mother and father, Giulia Ammannati and Vincenzo Galilei, however there is not a great amount of detail about early years of his life, despite this, it is widely agreed upon that Galileo’s earliest years were spent “in the countryside near Pisa” (O’Connor, 2002). At the age of eight, Galileo’s parents, along with the rest of his siblings at the time, returned to his father’s home town, Florence. From the ages eight to ten Galileo was raised by a family friend by the name of Muzio Tedaldi, Muzio being one of Vincenzo’s closest friends would end up raising and caring for all six of Vincenzo’s children at various points in his life, and is noted as being an influential character and role model for early periods of Galileo’s life and career.
Galileo’s remaining developmental years can be summed up by his time in school. At the age of ten, after two years away from his family with Muzio, Galileo was sent back to live with his parents in Florence. Upon arrival in Florence, Galileo was hastily sent by his parents to study at the Camaldolese Monastery in Vallombrosa. After completing study under the Camaldolese Monks, Galileo became a novice monk, intending to join the order in his future years; when Galileo’s father became aware of this news, Galileo was hastily removed from the Monastery and enlisted to study for a medical degree at the University of Pisa, living with Muzio Tedaldi again.
At this point in time, to any outsiders it would still be unclear that Galileo would move on to become one of the most influential scientists of the time period, with all his accomplishments to date being a list that was not much larger than most individuals. It would be here at the University of Pisa in 1581 that Galileo would attend courses on “many subjects ranging from mathematics to natural philosophy” (Robertson, 2002), sparking his interest and leading him to continue the study of mathematics elsewhere. In years following, Galileo spent the majority of his time studying mathematics under names such as Filippo Fantoni, chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa, and Ostilio Ricci, mathematician of the Tuscan Court and pupil of Tartaglia, Tartaglia being a professor who translated a great deal of the works by both Euclid and Archimedes into Italian which Galileo used to further his understanding on the subjects during his university years. Galileo finishes this period of his life by officially leaving his study at the University of Pisa without finishing his degree in medical student to pursue mathematics further outside of the University. In the year 1585 at the age of 21, Galileo began to teach others mathematics through private lessons, and very quickly over the next four years, Galileo was established as both a scholar but also as a pillar of his community, and a name known all over the country. Notable accomplishments over this time period range from the writing and publication of his first book “La Balancitta” (The Little Balance), all the way to “conducting a lecture on the dimensions and location of hell in Dante’s Inferno” at an academy in Florence. After this period of four years, one of Galileo’s previous professors, Filippo Fantoni, chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa stepped down leaving the spot open for taking; as Galileo was recommended the spot by his previous professor, along with his fame and general regard in the community, Galileo was quick to find himself teaching at the University of Pisa for the time being.
During Galileo’s time teaching as a professor at the University of Pisa, he wrote “De Motu”, a series of essays that went unpublished until after his death, believed to be unreleased because of Galileo’s own high standards. Galileo’s father’s death in the year 1591 would mark the start of his eventual climb to fame. With his father’s passing, Galileo was forced to switch jobs in order to provide for his family, and in the year 1592, Galileo was appointed the job of professor of mathematics at the University of the Republic of Venice, better known as the University of Padua. At the University of Padua, Galileo was finally earning enough to ensure that his two youngest sisters were supported financially, and thus began what Galileo described personally as the best years of high life. Over the next 18 years of his life, Galileo would teach both mathematics in the form of Euclidean geometry, as well as geocentric astronomy to medical students that needed to make use of astrology in the practice. During this time period, some of Galileo’s more controversial views arose, at this point in time it was common belief that most astronomical happenings were situated very close to earth, as per Aristotle’s beliefs. Despite the viewpoint of the masses, Galileo was adamant that the “New Star” could not be as close to Earth as previously stated, but how this news was accepted during his lectures was uncertain.
The late spring of 1609 would be the times in which modern astronomy began to develop, a passage about the time period can be found in Galileo’s own “Starry Messenger” which he wrote under a year later in April 1610: “About ten months ago a report reached my ears that a certain Fleming had constructed a spyglass by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby. Of this truly remarkable effect several experiences were related, to which some persons believed while other denied them. A few days later the report was confirmed by a letter I received from a Frenchman in Paris, Jacques Badovere, which caused me to apply myself wholeheartedly to investigate means by which I might arrive at the invention of a similar instrument. This I did soon afterwards, my basis being the doctrine of refraction.” This passage of text marks the circumstance and events preceding Galileo’s first take on the telescope. From first hearing about the original device used to look at things farther away it took Galileo under 5 months to construct a rendition of the telescope that was capable of seeing things up to eight times the distance usual, and over the following years Galileo had began to make some of the earliest documentations of his observations of the sky, both at night and during the day. Despite many significant astronomical findings during the time period, as well as some more important actions denoted by galileo himself, one of Galileo’s most well known and referenced publications of the 1610s is his “Letter to the Grand Duchess”, in which Galileo goes on and writes about in detail the shortcomings of Aristotle’s theories and work.
This publication which was originally addressed towards the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Christina of Lorraine; or the Duke of the court of which Galileo worked both as a mathematician and a philosopher. In this letter Galileo goes on to say: “I hold that the Sun is located at the centre of the revolutions of the heavenly orbs and does not change place, and that the Earth rotates on itself and moves around it. Moreover .
. . I confirm this view not only by refuting Ptolemy’s and Aristotle’s arguments, but also by producing many for the other side, especially some pertaining to physical effects whose causes perhaps cannot be determined in any other way, and other astronomical discoveries; these discoveries clearly confute the Ptolemaic system, and they agree admirably with this other position and confirm it.” Galileo’s later years take a much more depressing turn than years previous, and have very little significance to the monumental leaps and bounds of his early life. When one takes glances upon the life that is Galileo’s, it is very clear why he is regarded so highly in our educational system.
The steps Galileo took in his life, both as an astronomer as well as an individual permanently cement him as the “father of observational astronomy” for generations of children of the study to come.