Making Paths Through the Heavens

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

    Galileo Galilei was a hugely influential figure in the scientific revolution that changed the way Western civilization regarded nature. As Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) said, referring in part to Galileo, “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” In Galileo’s genius for experimentation, the swinging of ceiling lamps in the Cathedral of Pisa inspired theories about oscillation and time. The dropping of objects from the top of the leaning tower of Pisa inspired his law of falling bodies, which states that bodies of varying mass fall at the same rate. Galileo’s basic principle of relativity stated that the laws of physics are the same in any system that is moving at a constant speed in a straight line, regardless of its particular speed or direction. This would form the basis of Einstein’s theories of relativity four hundred years later.

Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644)

    Maffeo Barberini was born to a well-placed Florentine family, and following his education began his rise through the secular and religious administration, culminating in his papacy as Urban VIII (1623-1644). Primarily remembered as the persecutor of Galileo, Urban promoted Catholic foreign missions and abolished slavery in missions in South America, rewrote Catholic hymns, and built great monuments in Rome. However, his unprecedented nepotism and enormous military expenditures impoverished the Church, and his transparently political handling of the Thirty Year’s War (1618-1648), sometimes against Catholic interests, definitively diminished Papal authority in Europe. Upon Urban’s death, his bust in Rome was destroyed by an angry crowd.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)

    Born in Poland to a well-to-do family, Copernicus (in Polish, Mikolaj Kopernik) lived with his uncle, a bishop, after his own father’s death, and was educated both in Poland and in Italy in mathematics and the arts and sciences. Copernicus returned to Poland to become a canon, or administrator, in a cathedral. He was not the first to propose a heliocentric model for the universe, but he was the first to work out a complete model for it. Copernicus hesitated to publish his theory for fear of the possible reaction, and his groundbreaking book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, or The Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs, only appeared in the year of his death.

– Scott Horstein


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