Celebrating the International Year of Astronomy!
By Jove! 400 years ago, Galileo Galilei, a founding father of astronomy, aimed his home-made telescope at Jupiter, and saw four moons. Galileo did more than get a curb's-eye-view of some sparkling new real estate: He produced evidence for the revolutionary notion that the planets did not orbit the Earth, but rather the sun.
What would Galileo think?
We now realize that our solar system is an itty-bitty backwater of a big, boring galaxy that is, in turn, an infinitesimal fraction of a super-sized universe. But Galileo's observation helped proved that Nicholas Copernicus got the neighborhood right: Earth, no matter how unchanging it might seem, does circle the sun.
Equally unchanging is the danger of speaking truth to power, and as a reward for advancing physical science, the Catholic church tried Galileo for heresy. Galileo died under house arrest in 1642, a scant 350 years before Pope John Paul II “expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled, and officially conceded that the Earth was not stationary.”
Look upward, angel
With or without this ecclesiastical okay, astronomers on our watery planet are celebrating the International Year of Astronomy on the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s epic telescopic exploits.
In Galileo's memory, the Why Files will showcase two new astronomic achievements, and ask then whether we can prevent the stars from disappearing behind a haze of light pollution.
Cynics might ask "What has astronomy done for me lately?" but we applaud Galileo and his many successors for revealing a universe that is far more violent, ancient and downright oddball than even Ptolemy could have imagined.
Terry Devitt, editor; Nathan Hebert, project assistant; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive