Galileo was a very good student at school. When he was seventeen years old he went to Pisa, the city of the famous Leaning Tower, to study medicine. He soon found out that he was not interested in medicine. One morning, Galileo was worrying about his future, Galileo wandered into the Cathedral of Pisa. After he knelt in prayer, he saw the great lamp that had hung from the roof was swinging back and forth. He often saw the lamp swing back and forth when the wind blew into the cathedral. But this was not the thing that caught his attention. It seemed that the swings of the lamp were taking the same time even though they were growing shorter.
In those days, accurate time pieces were not invented. He wondered if there were some way he could time those swings!
Galileo's fingers reached for his pulse. One...two...three...four; one...two...three..four. Each of the lamp swings took exactly four pulse beats. Was it possible that every swing took the same time, regardless of it's length? If that were so, he had discovered something that no one had known before.
At home, he set out to prove that he was right. He made a pendulum by attaching a weight to a long string, and then let the weight swing free while he checked the time. No doubt about it: the time of each swing was the same. The distance of the swing didn't matter. Suddenly Galileo had a new thought: Would the weight of the pendulum make a difference in how fast the pendulum would swing? Galileo also tried this experiment and had discovered a second law: The speed of the pendulum in motion does not depend on the weight of the object. Galileo had discovered new laws of nature. But what was really important was that he had found a new way of deciding what those laws were. Galileo was the first great scientist to rely chiefly on his own experiments.
Now Galileo knew what he wanted to be: a scientist. When Galileo tried to prove his results to his fellow professors, they cried,"What nonsense! Aristotle, a famous writer, told us long ago that the heavier a object, the faster it falls."
Soon Galileo became very unpopular because of his ideas. In 1952, he left Pisa to teach at the University of Padua.
At Padua, Galileo was very happy. Not only were his children born there, but he was finally able to say what he liked and continued his experiments. One day, Galileo took a deep breath and said,"I do not believe that the heavens go around the Earth." There was a big gasp. Everyone looked at each other in amazement. What was Professor Galileo saying?
For two thousand years people had believed that the Earth stood still in the very center of the universe. The first man in modern time to state that the Earth went around the sun, was a Polish Priest, Nicholaus Copernicus, but he had not dared to publish his book until it was near his death. And just four years before Galileo discovered his new laws, an Italian monk named Giordano Bruno had been condemned and burned at stake for insisting that Copernicus was right.
Five years later, Galileo was able to bring the heavens closer! Word was spreading around that someone in Holland had invented a crude telescope. Galileo set to work at once deciding to build his own telescope.
The first telescope appeared to bring things three times closer. Later Galileo built a telescope that brought things thirty times closer. All of Padua waited in line to look throgh Galileo's telescope. News of it soon reached the Doge in Venice.
Galileo soon turned his new telescope to the heavens. At once, vast areas of the skies were revealed. Thousands and thousands of stars blazed in the heavens. Astronomers had never dreamed of a sight like this!
Galileo decided to return to Florence to become Chief Mathematician and Grand Duke. Even though his friend disagreed about Galileo going back to Florence, Galileo still wanted to go.
In Florence, Galileo was in trouble with the Inquisitition. The Inquistion was the court that had burned Giordano Bruno. The Inquistition already decided that the defendent was guilty even before the trial began. Since he was stubborn and refused to admit his guilt, the court would have to use its special method. Brainwashing and torture were only a couple of the horrible methods.
For three months, Galileo was held prisoner of the Inquistition. Finally Galileo was shown the instruments of torture and was told to confess. Galileo now was a weary old man, racked in body and deserted by the world, he dropped to his knees and said, "Do with me as you will." A great fear hovered over the world, Galileo's books were burned. Galileo, however was released but was under house arrest. That meant he could never leave the house again.
Even though Galileo was stopped from talking about his discoveries, the Inquisition couldn't stop him from continuing his thinking. Soon Galileo was in a deep plan that would help sailors know where they are when they are at sea by looking at the appearance of the moons at Jupiter. But Galileo's eyes were blurred, he knew he did not have much time.
One August afternoon, two Dutch visitors appeared at his door. After making sure no one was looking, one of them took out a letter. It said: "Most Noble Master Galileo, famed throughout your discoveries in science, the Dutch government has heard of your plan to find the locations of ships at sea. As a token of your respect, may we ask you to accept this little gift." The Dutch visitors held out a magnificent gold chain, but Galileo refused, afraid that he would get the two Dutch men in trouble. As Galileo said goodbye, he said slowly,"I am thankful that these eyes, now blind, have seen wonders that no man has ever seen before. Yet my work has been just a beginning. Some day, others will explore all the corners of this vast universe."
Galileo was right. The astronomers who are discovering more mysteries of the universe today depend on the first great scientist of modern times: Galileo Galilei.