“it was Galileo who made the instrument famous..”

Coincidentally, given yesterday’s post on Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope, today’s Irish Times tells us that [subs req] the 2009 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition will “mark the world celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope in 1609.” The only problem being that Galileo didn’t invent the telescope.. The Irish Independent somewhat more accurately reports that it “will be 400 years since Galileo first used a telescope to study the heavens.” As the Galileo Project website states

It is possible that in the 1570s Leonard and Thomas Digges in England actually made an instrument consisting of a convex lens and a mirror, but if this proves to be the case, it was an experimental setup that was never translated into a mass-produced device.

The telescope was unveiled in the Netherlands. In October 1608, the States General (the national government) in The Hague discussed the patent applications first of Hans Lipperhey of Middelburg, and then of Jacob Metius of Alkmaar, on a device for “seeing faraway things as though nearby.” It consisted of a convex and concave lens in a tube, and the combination magnified three or four times.

The Galileo Project goes on to record the development of the telescope by Galileo

The news of this new invention spread rapidly through Europe, and the device itself quickly followed. By April 1609 three-powered spyglasses could be bought in spectacle-maker’s shops on the Pont Neuf in Paris, and four months later there were several in Italy. (fig. 4) We know that Thomas Harriot observed the Moon with a six-powered instrument early in August 1609. But it was Galileo who made the instrument famous. He constructed his first three-powered spyglass in June or July 1609, presented an eight-powered instrument to the Venetian Senate in August, and turned a twenty-powered instrument to the heavens in October or November. With this instrument (fig. 5) he observed the Moon, discovered four satellites of Jupiter, and resolved nebular patches into stars. He published Sidereus Nuncius in March 1610.

The fault may lie with an over-enthusiastic interpretation of the perhaps ambiguous BT press release

The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2009 was launched today by its organiser and sponsor BT. A key feature will be the International Year of Astronomy 2009 which coincides with the 400th anniversary of the development of the telescope by Galileo in 1609 and is being marked by events throughout the world.

The press release then goes on to make an error all of their own.

Due to Galileo’s foresight and advancements with the telescope, scholars and professors went on to discover our planets and solar system, the earth was deemed to be round and, in more modern times, space travel became a reality. The 400th anniversary will educate and inspire young people worldwide to look at the universe with the same questioning and pioneering spirit as Galileo. [added emphasis]

The concept of a spherical Earth was known to early Greek philosophers, Pythagorus [570 BCE], Plato [427 BCE] and Aristotle [384 BCE] in particular. With Aristotle providing physical and observational arguments supporting the idea of a spherical Earth.

And Eratosthenes [276 BCE] estimated Earth’s circumference in around 240 BCE.

Not to mention Ptolemy [90 CE].

Then there were the Islamic astronomers who, around 830 BCE CE [edited], calculated the Earth’s circumference to be 24,000 miles.

What actually followed Galileo’s observations is mentioned here – eppur, si muove

Let’s hope the young scientists do better..

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