Let us read about a famous sixteenth-century mathematician and astronomer who changed the very concept of our ‘world’—Galileo Galilee, the man who dared to tell the truth.
There was once an Italian by the name of Galileo Galilee, who liked to sit by himself in a corner and make toys which could be worked by wheels and pulleys.
His father was a clever man who enjoyed doing experiments, but he was sorry that his little boy showed such an interest in mechanical toys. “The child will be a mathematician when he grows up,” sighed he “and I want him to be a merchant.”
To be a merchant meant that Galileo must have a good education, so his father sent him to an excellent school where he worked hard for several years. The boy’s reports were so good that old Galilee decided to send him to the university, hoping that he would become a doctor.
One day the young student happened to pass the cathedral and went in to say a prayer. It was beginning to grow dark, and as he rose from his knees, a man came in with a taper and lit a lamp which hung from the roof by a chain. He left it swinging to and fro.
Backwards, and forwards swung the lamp, casting strange moving shadows on the walls. At first the swing was quite a long one; but as it began to die, the distance became shorter. Galileo stared. It seemed to him that the lamp was taking the same length of time to swing a short distance as a long one. He swung it again, determined to make sure. But he had no watch with which to test it, and so he put his fingers on his pulse and counted the beats. He was right. When the lamp was nearly still it took as long to do its little swing as it had taken to do its big one.
Galileo had made a discovery. He had found that the length of time it takes a weight on a string to swing does not depend on the distance it swings, but on the length of its chain or cord. This was Galileo’s first discovery and because of it, people were able to make cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks, both of which depend upon this kind of swing of the pendulum.
Soon after, Galileo became a professor of mathematics.
One day he found that a heavy weight and a light one would both fall to the ground at the same moment. When no one would believe him, he said, “Very well, I’ll prove it. Meet me in the square by the Leaning Tower.”
Eager young students, grey-bearded professors, and all sorts of people from the town came to the square, shrugging their shoulders and saying, “What nonsense. Well, it will do him good to make a fool of himself.”
Galileo only smiled. He climbed the stairs of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and stood looking down at the crowd. On the edge of the tower, he placed two cannon balls. One weighed a hundred pounds and the other, one pound.
“Pooh!” said the people. “The heavy one will fall a hundred times quicker than the light one.” And they laughed. Just at that moment Galileo pushed the balls over the edge. Sure enough, he proved all of them wrong.
They struck the ground at the same moment. The old books, which the professors had believed without trying to prove, were quite wrong.
Meanwhile, Galileo had read about Copernicus, who had watched the stars and planets and had seen that they were in different parts of the sky at different times. He came to the conclusion that the sun was the centre of all movement and not the earth.
“The rising and setting of the sun,” said he “is due to the spinning of the earth. The earth is a planet like Jupiter or Venus. It spins like a top for a day and night, and at the same time, it makes the year go by slowly circling around the sun.”
Galileo believed in Copernicus, though the whole world laughed, and decided to find out the movements of the planets. It would help to prove that Copernicus was right. He set to work, but none of his experiments were of any use until, one day, he picked up a bit of old organ pipe and, pushing a bulgy spectacle glass into one end and a hollow one into the other, he looked through it. For a minute he said nothing; then his face lit up with a wonderful smile. His queer new instrument had made things look three times nearer and not upside down. Galileo had made the first telescope.
News of his wonderful invention flew all around Italy. Everyone wanted to look through Galileo’s spy-glass. He became the hero of the hour.
His life was now more interesting than ever. He improved his instrument, making it more powerful, and he began to explore the sky. He gazed at the Milky Way and found that this strange brightness was made by number of stars. He gazed at the moon and found that it was a world with mountains, valleys, craters, seas, and plains like his own country. This had never been known before, and now Galileo could see it. He found that the earth shone like the moon and that what a poet called ‘the old moon in the new moon’s arms’ was really earth- shine.
Unfortunately poor Galileo was living at a time when it was not always wise or safe to teach things which were not mentioned in the religious texts. He was taunted and ridiculed and forced to say that his theories were wrong. But he was a man of conviction and stood by what he had found to be the truth.