5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Galileo Galilei

On February 15, 1564, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa. By the time he died, he was as famous as any person in Europe. Here are five things you didn’t know about this Italian astronomer whose discoveries laid the foundation for modern physics and astronomy.  


He Didn’t Invent The Telescope Hans Lippershey, a Dutchman who made eyeglasses, invented the telescope, but Galileo first used it to look at the heavens. He later developed his own telescope with improvements and used it to discover the moon’s craters and the four moons that orbited Jupiter, among other discoveries. His observations led him to conclude that the Earth and planets revolved around the sun in support of Nicolaus Copernicus's theory, the astronomer and mathematician.

The Roman Inquisition Sentenced Him To Prison After Galileo built his telescope in 1609, he began mounting a body of evidence and openly supporting the Copernican theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun. The Copernican theory, however, went against Catholic Church doctrine. Galileo received permission by the Church to investigate the ideas of Copernicus as long as he didn’t hold or defend them. He did just that in 1632 when he published his book “Dialogue of the Two Principal Systems of the World” which compared the Copernican system with the traditional Ptolemaic system. Galileo was brought to trial before the Inquisition, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest, as well as repent in public.


An Italian Museum Displays His Finger Galileo was buried in Florence, Italy, at a small chapel at the Basilica of Santa Croce. They moved his remains to the basilica itself in 1737, minus a tooth, vertebra, and three fingers, most of which were kept by an admirer and passed down through the family. Galileo’s middle finger has passed to various museums, and the University of Padua, where the great astronomer was a teacher, has the vertebra on display.

A Spacecraft Was Named for Him by NASA Galileo was a space probe launched in 1989 by NASA and a German team, which arrived in 1995 at Jupiter and studied the planet for nearly eight years. The space probe discovered evidence that saltwater existed below three moons circling Jupiter and found evidence of volcanic activity on another of its moons. NASA crashed the space probe into Jupiter in 2003 when the mission ended.

Hundreds of Years Passed Before the Church Apologized for Galileo's Incarceration Pope Paul II initiated an investigation into Galileo’s condemnation in 1979. The investigation took 13 years, which was 359 years after Galileo’s trial by the Inquisition. The pope then issued an apology and closed the case, citing mistakes made during the trial.