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Galileo, the astronomer and mathematician, was born in Pisa in 1564. A hundred years before, Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish astronomer, first challenged the established orthodoxy by stating that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the Universe. This orthodoxy had prevailed since the time of Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD.

Galileo provided the theoretical and observational evidence for the theory and established what became known as the Copernican revolution. He built the first effective telescope and used it to observe the Moon, Venus and Jupiter. He watched the Moon change as it circled round the Earth. He drew its surface as he saw it through the telescope. He guessed, wrongly, that the dark areas he saw were seas, but because of this, some areas of the Moon are named as seas. He discovered the moons of Jupiter. He also used his telescope to prove that the Earth moves round the Sun. His observations of Venus, which showed that it had phases like the Moon, lent support to this idea. The Inquisition upheld the Church view that the Earth was fixed at the centre of the Universe and forced Galileo to withdraw his contention, under threat of torture. He is said to have muttered, after his public recantation, E pur si muove - 'But it does move'.

Galileo made many other scientific discoveries. A swinging lamp in Pisa cathedral is said to have made him realise that the rate at which a pendulum swings depends on its length rather than the distance through which it swings, which led to the development of pendulum clocks. He demonstrated the principles of gravity some 50 years before Newton; contrary to myth, he did so using an inclined plane, not the leaning tower of Pisa. He demonstrated that freely falling objects accelerate at the same rate, whatever their mass, and that projectiles follow the path of a parabola. He made the first thermometer in about 1600.

Galileo died in 1642.

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