GENERAL MEETING REPORT 11 JUNE
Presentation to Barry Adcock and wife Syllabus Speaker: Professor David N. Jamieson, School of Physics, Melbourne University Topic: “Galileo and the Telescope”
“After 40 years at the helm of the Lunar and Planetary Section we cannot let you just walk away”, Vice President Jim Pollock countered Barry Adcock’s protestations at the Presentation Ceremony. “Not forgetting your good wife, who had to prepare some 500 suppers over the years to feed the monthly meeting-group’s appetite”. With this, Jim handed over the nicely prepared presents to the Adcocks to great acclaim from the assembled members (see photos). Maurice Valimberti has taken over from Barry as Director of the Lunar and Planetary Section.
Professor David Jamieson is no stranger to the ASV members. Standing in for Dr Nick Hoffman in November 2004 on “The invasion of Mars 2004” (the twin exploratory rover vehicles Spirit and Opportunity), or more appropriately for Dr Jamieson’s specific field of interest, “Nuclear techniques of analysis in the search for water and life on the Red Planet” (CRUX Vol 23 No 1) Four years later the search and the speculations are still going on.
The subject of tonight’s talk had nothing to do with nuclear technique or space travel though, but with a technological innovation 400 years earlier, the telescope, and the man who first pointed it at the stars. The telescope has had a profound influence on the history of science and on the philosophy of life since the 17th century. In 1608, the Dutch spectacle-maker Johannes (Hans) Lipperhey from Middelburg applied for a patent for a "certain instrument to see far". Despite enthusiasm for his invention and several orders to build such devices for customers, no patent was awarded to Lipperhey, because two other spectacle-makers, Sacharias Jansen, also from Middelburg, and Jacob Metius from Alkmaar, also claimed the invention. The principle of the 'Dutch telescope' was considered too easy to imitate to be awarded with a patent. This was confirmed one year later when the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (a Tuscan physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher born on 15 February 1564) pointed his self-made telescope towards the sky. The rest is history.
It was an innovation as potent and influential on the philosophy of the time as space travel is today; a discovery that shook the 2000 year old, entrenched astronomy with its geocentric universe, at its roots. Galileo may not have invented the telescope, but it was he who first undertook systematic studies with it of the night sky, and it was he who first documented and published his findings for others to read and confirm. His is the first recorded sightings of the craters of the moon, the crescent of Venus, the four large moons of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn. He resolved some of the stars of the Milky Way, counted 34 stars in the Pleiades and discovered the sunspots, an exercise that probably led to his blindness in later life. Galileo's telescope used an arrangement of glass lenses to magnify objects. Initially he started with 8x, but by grinding his own lenses gradually improved the telescope to 20 and 30 fold. With its narrow field of view; Galileo could only see an area a quarter of the moon's face and he used a grating attached to the side of the telescope as a view-finder.
In the first two months of 1610 Galileo began writing The Starry Messenger (Sidereus nuncius), and by 12 March, the book was already printed at Venice, dedicated to Cosimo de' Medici. Galileo conveyed some of his observations in ciphers to Johannes Kepler, who had responded enthusiastically with the Conversation with Galileo's Sidereal Messenger. He referred to the anomalous rings of Saturn as “Saturn has Ears”; the discovery of the phases of Venus he hid in the message 'Cynthiae figurae aemulatur mater amorum' (the mother of lovers [Venus] imitates the shapes of Cynthia [the moon]). Despite these exchanges, Galileo never accepted Kepler's elliptical orbits of the planets. Sir Henry Wotton, English Ambassador to the Republic of Venice, sent a copy of The Starry Messenger on the day of its publication (13 March 1610) to King James, with a covering letter saying, “...Galileo runneth a fortune to be either exceeding famous or exceeding ridiculous.”