Saturday, 29 August 2009

Galileo's Telescope at 400

This past week, Galileo's demonstration of the telescope celebrated its 400th anniversary. However, as noted in National Geographic's Galileo's Telescope at 400: Facts, Myths and More, it might not necessarily be a cause for total, unreserved adulation:
A math professor at the University of Padua, Galileo based his optical instrument on spyglasses developed the previous year by Dutch spectacle makers.

The Venetian Senate was about to purchase one of the popular gadgets when Galileo stepped in with his own version.

Made of wood and leather, Galileo's telescope had eight-times magnification, a convex main lens, and a concave eyepiece that—unlike other telescopes of the period—presented the image the right way up.

Venice's interest in the telescope was commercial rather than scientific, according to science historian Alan Chapman of the University of Oxford in the U.K.

The maritime city's wealth and power was based on overseas trade, and at the time its vessels were being attacked by the Turks, Chapman said.

To demonstrate the enemy-spotting potential of his telescope, "Galileo [took] a number of senators up to one of the bell towers in Venice where you can see ships out in the lagoon," he said.

Nevertheless, what Galileo found when gazed into space with his copyright-infringing tactical weapon changed the course of human knowledge.

National Geographic's coverage of the event includes the Galileo's Telescope at 400: From Spyglasses to Hubble gallery, A History of Telescopes and Cosmic Vision, discussing the lineage of telescopes up to the modern day. Motifs of Galileo and his telescope also turned up in the spactacular video for Japanese singer Misia's new single Ginga (meaning "Galaxy"), which became the official theme song for the Japanese International Year of Astronomy Committee.


Richard Harrison said...

Cory - did you happen to spot the Google logo on 25 August?

Cory Gross said...

I did happen to see that. It was quite fetching ^_^