MGMT 1050 Lecture 6: CH 6 - Beyond the Human Eye

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20 Jul 2016
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CH 6 – Beyond the Human Eye
Page 132
On a sticky hot day in Florence, it’s a relief to enter the air-conditioned Museum for the History of Science
down by the River Arno. Our mission is to track down the very beginning of modern astronomy: two
telescopes made by the great Galileo.
Up the stairs, past brass astrolabes, into the first of the Galileo rooms. And amidst the gleaming metal,
polished wood and shining glass, there's something distinctly organic. It resembles a bent, dried-up stick.
Look more closely - and it's a finger. Distinctly, a mummified human finger, pointing upwards from a glass
dish that holds it reverentially, like the relic of a saint.
According to the caption, this is the finger of Galileo himself. To be precise, it's the middle finger of his
right hand.
What is Galileo's finger telling us? It's tempting to think that he's making a rather rude gesture towards the
Church Fathers who censored his words, stifled his thoughts and imprisoned him. Or perhaps he's
beckoning us on, to the great new discoveries about the Universe revealed by his telescopes?
Despite what people often say, Galileo didn't actually invent the telescope. He wasn't even the first person
to turn it towards the sky. What was so important is that Galileo was more than just a celestial sightseer,
of the 'been there, got the T-shirt variety. He realized that these new sky sights would change the way we
understand the Universe - and all in one miraculous year, from the autumn of 1609 to autumn 1610.
Without the telescope, we would still be stuck today with the astronomy of the sixteenth century, with
good evidence the Earth circles the Sun but no proof; with no idea of what the stars are; with no concept
of galaxies, black holes and the Big Bang. This great revolution was started not just by Galileo's
discoveries, but by the sheer force of his personality.
RIGHT Galileo delighted in showing his
visitors the wonders of the cosmos through
his telescopes. They included the English
poet John Milton, whose famous poem,
Paradise Lost, contains references to the
great man’s telescopes.
OPPOSITE Two of Galileo's early
'optick tubes' peer upwards to the
mysteries of the sky. The lenses were tiny:
only about 1.5 inches (4cm) across. It is a
tribute to the astronomer that he was able
to observe anything at all, and - moreover
- to record his findings scientifically.
PAGE 134
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'Galileo has a hard face in the portraits of him as a young man’ says Allan Chapman of Oxford University.
‘It's a very tough, very powerful face. Frankly, you wouldn't want to meet him on a dark night.’
We've met his skeletal finger in a sunny Florence day, though, and it leads us to the next room, and the
two ancient telescopes made by Galileo. They are rather quaint wooden tubes, with a small lens at each
end, one stylishly covered in leather.
Telescopes like these overturned the Universe. Yet there’s a long-running dispute about who invented
them. About 250 years earlier, craftsmen In Venice had begun making small discs of curved glass that
people could support in a frame in front of their eyes, to improve their vision as they got older. Because
the glass discs looked rather like flattened lentils, they were called 'lenses'.
The first lenses were convex, bulging at the centre. Later, opticians created lenses that were thinner in
the centre - concave lenses that helped people with short sight. By the year 1450, the ingredients for a
telescope existed, but no-one had sussed the recipe for putting them together. There are some tantalizing
hints that -well before Galileo - people may have used lenses or curved mirrors to make distant …
ABOVE From his workshop, Dutch
spectacle-maker Hans Lipperhey uses two
lenses to bring ships in the port closer.
His invention would have important
implications for the military as well as
for astronomy
Page 135
..objects seem nearer. The English astronomer Thomas Digges mentioned that his inventor father,
Leonard, ‘hath by proportional Glasses duly situate in convenient angles, not only discovered things far
off, read letters, numbered pieces of money with the very coin and superscription thereof, cast by some of
his friends of purpose upon downs in open fields, but also seven miles off declared what hath been done
at that instant in private places.'
It sounds like a telescope, but no-one at that time could possibly have made a telescope that revealed
inscriptions on coins in distant fields, yet alone things done in private 7 miles (11 km) away. The claims
are just too ambitious. Also, it wasn't followed up. When the telescope was actually invented, it was such
an amazing and useful device that it spread like wildfire.
In the summer of 1608, a Dutch spectacle-maker called Hans Lipperhey (or Lippershey) found a unique
combination of two lenses - one convex and the other concave - could make objects appear much nearer.
If we want a birthday for the telescope, we could take it as September 25,1608. On that date, Lipperhey
presented a letter to the States General in The Hague, applying …
LEFT The invention of the astronomical
telescope sent Shockwaves through Europe,
leading to many significant discoveries.
Here, Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius
observes the heavens. Over a period of four
years, he produced the first detailed maps
of the Moon.
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Page 136
… for a patent for a ‘certain device, by means of which all things at a great distance can be seen as if
they were nearby.’
Matters quickly got muddy, as two other opticians claimed to have invented the telescope before
Lipperhey. But Allan Chapman is in no doubt who should be awarded the laurels. ‘Lippershey seems to
have been the first person to put a pair of lenses together - certainly he got the recognition by the State
General of Holland. He sold them: and within weeks they being used across Europe. We know they were
on sale in Paris not very long after. These were novelty devices, really.'
Galileo first got to hear about the new instrument in the summer of 1609, when a vendor arrived from
Paris to sell a telescope to the Republic of Venice. Galileo realised that the telescope was not just a
novelty, but potentially a military secret weapon. It would let them see enemy ships far out at sea.
While we think of Venice today as a genteel tourist destination, in Galileo's time war was never far from
anyone's thoughts. The island city was a major Mediterranean power in its own right. Only 20 years
earlier, Venetian warships had led the victorious Christian fleet against the Ottoman Empire at the Battle
of Lepanto, near the mouth of the great Gulf of Corinth.
Galileo was then at the University of Padua, the centre of learning for the Republic of Venice. It was the
second most important university in Italy, after Bologna, and Galileo had an excellent position as
professor of mathematics. He also earned a bit on the side of his academic salary by teaching visiting
noblemen the maths of warfare - surveying, architecture and mechanics.
Galileo had hit on a nice little earner that relied on the Republic’s penchant for new military inventions.
Galileo’s Geometric and Military Compass comprised a pair of metal rulers linked by third curved ruler,
with engraved scales that allowed the user…
ABOVE One of the architectural
icons of Venice, the 16th-century Rialto
Bridge - shown in a detail of a painting
here by Canaletto remains virtually
unaltered since Galileo's residence at
the University of Padua in the Venetian
Republic. In Galileo's time, science,
music, art and architecture were at one:
in fact, Galileo's father, Vincenzio, was
a prominent composer.
OPPOSITE Galileo would have been
astonished that a spaceprobe with his
name on it had an extended rendezvous
with the planet Jupiter, starting in 1995.
In this artist's impression, (Galileo sweeps
over volcanic lo - one of the four moons
that he observed through his telescopes.
Page 138
… to solve just about every mathematical problem of the day, including changing currencies and setting
up cannon.
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