Galileo and the Stars

I feel that the motivation of Galileo’s pursuits in Astronomy and stargazing was driven by his desire to be financially successful. Galileo was an extremely ambitious and clearly independent individual whose methods of generating scientific data epitomizes a survival of the fittest like struggle between all of the prominent scientists of his time.

During Galileo’s life there was no gray area of wealth like the middle class of today, and therefore you were either rich or poor. In Science and Patronage published by Westfall, the word friend’s connotation back then was not one of caring for another person and mutual support but rather defined in a financial type way of using one’s connections to better one’s self. There was patronage inside of patronage; therefore Galileo did not always see what he claimed to have seen, his associates might have though. Since patronage was the way of the world at this time as Galileo knew it made no sense for someone to swim against the current, for they would simply become tired and unsuccessful. Because of Galileo’s position as a patron to the prince, many of his disciples were patrons to Galileo himself thus providing him data and insightful knowledge. Galileo in turn allowed the use of his name as a referral to help his disciples out.

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Surprisingly Galileo had only worked as a patron for those, which gave him enough money or got persuaded into his over exaggerated descriptions of what the moon really looked like. Galileo did not go into depth with many of the things he saw, instead he attempted to describe everything he saw vaguely in order to make sure he got credit for seeing it first. I feel that it is important to document your discoveries as Galileo had not only to get credit for seeing it first but to create a larger body of information that can be collaborated on amongst all of the people. It appears that as he wrote Sidereus Nuncius that he wasn’t even quite sure of all his findings and mostly improvised through his work. I am doubtful that the princes he served were even able to see what Galileo claimed in Sidereus Nuncius at least in our day and time it seems difficult to get a clear image of the heavens because of light pollution and possibly air pollution such as smog and other industrial chemicals.

Although Galileo’s descriptions of the moon were sometimes very accurate I did not see exactly what he did, which could be a result of the moon’s surface changing through time. For instance, the circular orb located near the center of the moon at half moon was not visible to me during my observations. Of the more important facts in Galileo’s discourse, I feel that his deduction that the moon is not perfectly spherical and smooth as the Pythagoreans had believed, rather mountainous with many prominence and depressions very much like the textured landscape of earth. Galileo supports these ideas in a logical manner and illustrates them in his observations when the moon is in its different phases. He claims that the dark regions of the moon are shadows cast by the sun. Another detail about the moon that was made more visible to me by the telescope is the circular outline around that moon, even in the dark region, that separates the body of the moon from the ether, which is a term Galileo uses for the rest of the outer space. During this time there was also much debate about the source of the moon’s illumination. “Some have said that it is the intrinsic and natural brightness of the moon herself; others that it is imparted to it by Venus, or by all the stars; and yet others have said that it is imparted by the sun who penetrates the Moon’s vast mass with his rays”. A good point that supports the moon reflects light from the sun is the fact that during an eclipse the moon does not retain its brilliant illumination. Galileo relates this to the way earth has twilight in the morning and evening when the solar rays falling upon the earth illuminate depending upon our proximity. I feel that Galileo appears to be too strong-minded when expressing his ideas as he rejects the idea of the moon being illuminated by light imparted by Venus. Galileo was the pioneer of the idea that light is reflected by all of the heavenly bodies. He proposed that the moon is reflection light to earth, which originates from the sun and we (people on earth) are reflecting that same light towards the moon. “In an equal and grateful exchange the Earth pays back the moon with light equal to that which she receives from the Moon almost all the time in the deepest darkness of the night.” (Galileo, p.XX) That would be to say that people on the moon also view the earth as illuminated. I feel that that idea is an important idea which holds true today, that light travels in a straight line from the moon to the earth and vice versa.

I have witnessed an effect, which Galileo noted pertaining to the magnification of stars. In fact when I aimed my telescope at the stars I did not notice a great deal of magnification if any as compared to the enlargement of something that does not emit as much light such as my stereo in my room. When I observed first, the stereo with the naked eye I was not able to read the lettering associated with different buttons. Next with the spyglass I was able to distinctly read even the smallest of lettering on the interface of the stereo. All objects observed by me were insightfully enlarged for my viewing except that is the nebulous bodies which us humans call stars. Galileo asserted that this was because of the visual effect that the stars dancing rays make it look larger when observing with the naked eye, and with the spyglass which he proposed acted almost like a decoder and unmasking the volume enhancing shield of light shone by the stars. Myself also observed the lack of a definite shape of the stars, which was observed by Galileo. He is accurate when he describes the stars light emissions as pulsating and the heavenly bodies or planets as covered with a definite blanket of light. As I gazed around the sky without the spyglass in hand the sphere of fixed stars appeared to be fairly simple; that is until I magnified Orion’s belt which I saw too many stars to count. Galileo proclaimed that he saw eighty and depicted an illustration of all of them I feel that it is more difficult to find the constellations when probing the sky with the spyglass as compared to using the naked eye to find the constellation and then magnifying the stars of importance. The spyglass definitely made society during Galileo’s time aware of stars that they were unconscious to. I wonder why Galileo did not mention the Big Dipper that is located in Ursa Major. It was a test for warriors to decipher between the two stars on the handle that almost appear as one, I imagine that it would be reassuring to the warriors that failed to see that there really is a second star. At first I did not realize that there was a second star in the Big Dipper but after seeing it I was able to recognize the faint glowing star. When I observed the seven sisters I was not able to see a seventh star as Galileo asserted. I’m sure that as Galileo observed the clusters of stars in the sky that he came to the realization that to come to a truth in the number of stars is virtually impossible.

The next topic that Galileo created a lot of hype about in his proposal was the discovery of four planets. In hopes of putting astronomy in a more visible place in the public eye, Galileo challenged all astronomers to determine the periods of these new planets. This would definitely not be possible by the use of a conventional low powered telescope; therefore Galileo had an advantage for surviving in the patronage world. Since Galileo made his own telescopes and swiftly distributed them to all prominent and potential charitable individuals his name was automatically connected to the study of the universe. Another reason for his domination, which is not really an act of fairness, is the quality of the telescopes he sold and the quality of the ones that were gifts to royal individuals. The fact that some individuals did not have the power to observe the marvels that Galileo had only hurt his cause of trying to reform the system of the universe. It’s logical to say that the spyglasses he sold were not of superior quality in which to make a serious breakthrough in determining the periods of the Medician Stars. Yet he still made money off selling these spyglasses and monopolized the industry in which all individuals were contributing to his financial and influential growth. He knew that it was only a matter of time after all of the speculation and skepticism that he would prevail, and make a profit in the process. I even states in the footnotes of Albert Van Helden’s that in the case of observing the satellites’ s of Jupiter, it was necessary to have a specialized celestial telescope that magnifies fifteen times or more. I cannot say that I have seen the Medician stars, although I did observe Jupiter. His observations of the satellites of Jupiter seem to be consistent in that they form a straight line and are seen at varying times in different formations. Jupiter was an exemplary model that demonstrates how the moons revolve around the planets much like the moon and earth. This observation may have upset many of the people that believed in the Copernican system at this time, because now two planets were known to have moons.

When reading Sidereus Nuncius I did find that Galileo’s book was persuasive because of the documentation of his research. At first I completely disagreed about the things he saw with his telescope, but then I realized that it requires an adequate amount of time to make good observations as he had. There are other factors that led me to be skeptical; mostly the weather and the light that obscured my view led me to believe that it was difficult to see anything. The conditions and environment for viewing the sky were definitely much better during his time than ours. There was no electricity in Galileo’s time therefore he did not have to deal with what we call today Light pollution, I’m sure that smog and air pollution have an effect on visibility and influence the amount of quality viewing time available to amateur astronomers today. Galileo finishes his work declaring that the lack of time prevents him from completing everything, which to me is an indication that he was pressured to get his work done in a short amount of time in fear that someone else would make the discoveries before him. Reading through VanHelden’s conclusion I found that the scientific world was very competitive at this time and many scientists were very jealous of Galileo’s success. The case with Martin Horky of Bohemia, who made false implications about Galileo’s spyglass and then made a wax impression of it to try and reproduce one better than Galileo’s, demonstrates this clearly. Kepler’s statement in his reply to Galileo in Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo can either be the revealing of Galileo’s hidden agenda to gain publicity on his misrepresented findings or what he was truly pursuing the entire time, which was the truth.

In retrospect, Galileo was simply trying to earn a living doing something that he loved, which was the observation of sciences. He did what he had to do. Had he been more modest about his findings I feel that his ideas and observations would not have had such a violent reaction with society and his fellow scientists, some of which were overcome with jealousy and hatred. It is important to remember that people believe what they want to believe and you should never try to aggressively impose an idea on someone or some group of people. From a scientific basis I can clearly say that I agree with Galileo’s work and with his methods of patronage, although I may not like his personality.

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Galileo and the Stars. (2018, Jun 10). Retrieved from