Four hundred years ago, the Italian scientist looked into space and changed our view of the universe
Insidea a glass case sits a plain-looking tube, worn and scuffed. Lying in the street, it would look like a length of old pipe. But as I approach it, Derrick Pitts—only half in jest—commands: "Bow down!"
The unremarkable-looking object is in fact one of the most important artifacts in the history of science: it's one of only two surviving telescopes known to have been made by Galileo Galilei, the man who helped revolutionize our conception of the universe. The telescope is the centerpiece of "Galileo, the Medici and the Age of Astronomy," an exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (until September 7).
A FEW YEARS AGO, Pope John Paul II told a cosmology conference at the Vatican that scientists should not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God. The Pope said that it was okay "to study the beginning of the universe and where it began, but we should not inquire into the beginning itself, because that was the moment of Creation and the work of God."
I was glad that John Paul did not realize that I had presented a paper at the conference, suggesting how the universe began, because I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo Galilei.
The Franklin Institute and its aspiring blockbuster, "Galileo, the Medici & the Age of Astronomy," are something of an odd couple -- a circumstance explained, like so much else, by history.
The Franklin, known for its interactive science exhibits and family appeal, wanted to display one of Galileo Galilei's pioneering telescopes, owned by Florence's Institute and Museum of the History of Science, on the occasion of the instrument's 400th anniversary and the International Year of Astronomy.