Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy 450th Birthday to Galileo

Today, Feb 15th 2014 is 450 years since the birth of Galileo Galilei.

By chance, last week I had the opportunity to visit the house Galileo lived in in the last years of his life near Arcetri Observatory in Florence.

I was actually visiting the Observatory where I had been invited to give a seminar.

Here's the explanation (in English) of the historic nature of the site. 

From the roof of the observatory you can see across the valley to the Villa il Gioiello where Galileo lived from 1631-1642. It's the yellowish building just left of centre.

Simone Bianchi was my host at Arcetri, and was kind enough to offer to take me over to the house. The house is not regularly open to the public, and the details of its future use are still being debated. 

A famous number by the front door. 

Here's an 18th century monument to Galileo from when the house was first becoming famous.

A plaque above the door from the time the University of Florence bought the house. The house has been under renovation for some time and is currently very nicely kept (but almost completely empty). 

Here's me in the room which is believed to have been Galileo's study during the time he was working on the proofs of his last book "Discourse and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences"

Here's the view from the upper balcony. This level was through to house the household staff at the time of Galileo. 

The walk between the observatory and the house was partly along a beautiful planet walk installed by the observatory. They host regular public tours when visitors can explore this walk, as well as the historic telescope and other instruments on the site (although unfortunately not the Galileo house). 

It was a nice visit, and has inspired me to re-read Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter" which is about his time in this house, and well worth a read. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

British Astronomers

I had cause to Google "British Astronomers" yesterday, and was so horrified by the result I felt I needed to post it. Actually once I think about it it's not a surprise at all, but the raw numbers still shocked me.

The top line is a list (with images) of the results "most mentioned on the web". I did a screen shot of that below.

It's William Herschel, Patrick Moore, Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, John Flamsteed, Caroline Herschel, George Airy, John Herschel, James Bradley (?), Arthur Stanley Eddington, Jeremiah Horrocks, Nevil Maskelyne, John Adams (?), Fred Hoyle, Richard van der Riet Woolley (?), Frank Watson Dyson (?), William Parsons, Martin Rees, Harold Spencer Jones (?) and Jocelyn Bell.

Only two out of the 20 (10%) are alive, only two (10%) are women.

I put question marks above on names which were not immediately recognisable to me (this I take as my failing not Google's, but I was curious why they're there). It turns out that most of them are former Astronomer Royals whose wikipedia article begins "XX is an English Astronomer who was Astronomer Royal from XX-XX". John Adams I should have known - he's the person who (a the same time as but independently of Le Verrier) predicted the existence of Neptune from deviations in Uranus's orbit.

Is it time to add some more recent British astronomers to the list? Perhaps some more women (where is Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin in this?). It seems we can help to do this by editing Wikipedia which is a good thing to do anyway.

Curiously Googling either "English Astronomers" or "American Astronomers" does not return the series of images ("Italian Astronomers" does - but missing Galileo!).