Books

A Messenger From The Stars: Galileo Galilei

Written by Sheeba Manish

I hold the sun to be situated motionless in the centre of the revolution of celestial orbs while the earth rotates on its axis and evolves around the sun

These words by Galileo Galilei seem commonplace today, but not back in the 1600’s. It rocked the very foundation of the Aristotlean theory that the universe was geocentric and not heliocentric. Copernicus had stated the same, but with little proof, he dared not make it public. Peter Sis in the  book Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei  written and illustrated by him,  spectacularly brings to us the story of Galileo’s scientific discoveries and his unbending conviction about them even in the face of great hardship.

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The Church, of course, asked him to recant what they believed were untruths. But like the chained man of the cave in Plato’s allegory Galileo had seen the light. He had clear proof that what was until now believed to be the truth was no longer so.

Why should I believe blindly and stupidly what I wish to believe, and subject the freedom of my intellect to someone else who is just as liable  to error as I am.

He felt that God meant for us to be enquiring beings who must learn from what we see and later observe.

I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended to forgo their use…He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.

This is what we could call the need for a scientific temperament. This temperament allows for a change in worldview when we are supplied with new information backed by data and findings. Unfortunately, the scientific temperament was lacking then as much as it is now.

The Church was not amused. They accused Galileo of hearsay, or rumour mongering. He was accused of denouncing the truth- which was that the earth was at the centre and the sun revolved around it- that could be found in the  Scriptures. As a result, he was put under house arrest. Galileo who had earlier been feted and much sought after for his scientific genius found himself alone physically and intellectually.

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He did not lose hope and continued his scientific studies in the confines of his home. Because in truth, Galileo was never alone. In his head, the Universe floated. The moons and stars kept him company. Galileo kept up this tempo  despite going blind and further until his death.

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The book then transports us back to the time before Galileo was convicted. Galileo was a member of the intellectual community in Italy. Scientists, explorers, artists and sculptor sought the favour of the royal families of Venice.

As a young boy, Galileo learnt Greek, Latin, religion and music. He learnt mathematics with the hope of advancing his career.

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By the age of twenty-five, he was a professor of mathematics at the University of Pisa. In 1952, he became the Professor of Mathematics at the university of Padua. Here he came up with many discoveries including The Law of Falling Objects. (Unequal objects fall to the ground at the same rate of acceleration). It was here he invented the hydrostatic balance, the geometric compass and the thermometer.

He sought the patronage of the Medici family and left Padua for Tuscany when he earned favour. He undertook adjustments and refinements to the telescope which had just been discovered. He sent his findings regarding the moon in a book Sidereus Nuncius, or “The Starry Messenger and a telescope (a novelty like the latest iPhone) to the  Grand Duke Cosimo.

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He trained the telescope to the moon and showed how the moon was not a smooth ball of white but an object with craters, mountains and valleys. Galileo also named the moons of Jupiter after the Medici family to earn patronage for further work.

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Naturally word got around about a brilliant young scientist and he was much feted. Galileo is also known for his findings regarding sunspots.

I have no doubt whatever they are real objects and not mere appearances or ilusions of the eye or the lens of the telescope. I liken the sunspots to clouds or smokes

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Sunspots

His discoveries were celebrated in fantastic carnivals and shows. Here was someone who was unveiling truths about the sun, moon and stars hitherto unknown.

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Celebrating Galileo

His theory that the sun was the centre of the earth and not the sun saw him lose all the fame and adulation. He fell from the very heights he was raised to. Galileo remained undeterred for he had seen and tested all that he had written down. He was a sighted man in the kingdom of the blind. It took 300 years after Galileo’s death for the church to admit that he had been right all along.

The Starry Messenger though not fully understood in his own time is considered astronomer, inventor, physicist, mathematician and scientist par excellence today. He is also remembered for his unflinching conviction.

Peter Sis’s Starry Messenger captures Galileo Galilei’s remarkable life in artwork reminiscent of European tapestries. Rich in detail, with geometrical borders one feels one is reading a book of the 1600’s. The artwork is layered and textured at different levels. Named a Caldecott Honor book by the American Library Association the Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei  is an unmissable book that is as much about Galileo as it is about seeking truths and staying by it.

Age group: 6-10 years

Lexie Reading level: 830L

 

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