And then I wrote... Finishing up my string of articles for the International Year of Astronomy, this paper was one that I never got to give. I was supposed to fly from London to Italy for a conference on the celebration of Galileo's telescope, to be held in his old home town of Padua, but the day my flight was scheduled to leave Gatwick the airport was shut down due to snow!
The amount of snow would have been nothing in Chicago, but for London it constituted a major blizzard... It was finally published in the proceedings conference proceedings, Galileo’s Medicean Moons: their impact on 400 years of discovery
As so many of the presentations at this conference have confirmed, Galileo’s discoveries with the telescope, epitomized by his discovery of satellites orbiting Jupiter, revolutionized astronomy. They also revolutionized our view of the universe, what has been come to be called our scientific “cosmology.” And in the process, they gave a new emphasis to the whole question of other worlds and other civilizations.
To appreciate the impact that Galileo’s observations had on our cosmic sense of ourselves and our place in the universe, it is important to begin with an accurate understanding of the old version that his observations overthrew. It is wrong to think that humanity’s understanding of the universe was a simple Earth-centered view, that there were no other competing models in the ancient world, or that there was no speculation about other worlds and other civilizations before Galileo.
And, indeed, as we know, Galileo did not propose a new model of the universe; that honor, of course, goes to Copernicus. Nor did he improve it, as Kepler did. Nor did he put it on a deeper physical basis, the way Newton did. Nor did his observations even demonstrate that it was true, in a mathematical sense, since certainly the Tycho Brahe model fit Galileo’s data as well as the Copernican model did. Nonetheless, Galileo’s observations and publications were crucial, indeed a pivotal event, in all of these developments. To see why, it is necessary to see the nature and the role of cosmologies in human culture.
C. S. Lewis (Lewis, 1964) has described the medieval view of the universe as “The Discarded Image.” It was...
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