400 years of telescopic astronomy

Thomas Harriot
Thomas Harriot (c. 1560–1621).

400 years ago today, on 26th July, 1609, the early English scientist Thomas Harriot pointed his new-fangled telescope at the moon and made a drawing.

Four months later, but much more famously, Galileo did the same.

In the same way that Darwin is rightly remembered as the father of evolution by means of Natural Selection, even though other people had touched on similar ideas before him, Galileo is rightly remembered as the father of telescopic astronomy. Harriot did not publish his findings, whereas Galileo followed through on his research, proving to the world once and for all—and at considerable personal risk—that there are more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in Aristole's geocentric cosmology.

The Strozzi Palace in Florence, Italy, is currently housing a wonderful exhibition, entitled Galileo: Images of the Universe from Antiquity to the Telescope. I was lucky enough to be in Florence earlier this year, and visited the exhibition (which runs until 30th August, 2009). It is quite simply one of the best scientific exhibitions I have ever seen, packed full of priceless scientific artefacts, including Galileo's original watercolour sketches of the moon in different phases, and the notebook in which he recorded his first observation of the Jovian satellites.

If you are passing anywhere near Italy before the end of August, I urge you to make time to visit the exhibition.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

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