Friday, 16 January 2009

Italy fetes Galileo

Events mark 400th aniversary of Italian's breakthroughs
(ANSA) - Florence, January 15 - A wave of events marking 400 years since Galileo Galilei's first landmark observations of the night sky kicks off here on Thursday, part of global celebrations for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA).
The two-day official launch of IYA takes place in Paris but Tuscany will play a special part in the yearlong initiative as the birthplace and home of the 'father of modern science'. Speaking at the official inauguration ceremony, the president of Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), Tommaso Maccacaro, said the decision to hold the IYA in 2009 was perfect. ''There can be no doubt that 2009 was the right year to celebrate astronomy as it is exactly 400 years since Galileo made his first observations by telescope,'' said Maccacaro. ''These observations revolutionized our culture and our conception of the role of humankind within the universe''. The Tuscan initiatives will include the opening of a new museum, guided observations of the night sky, the laying of a marker stone commemorating the scientist and three exhibitions, part of 12-million-euro 'Galileo Package'. The biggest show of the year is a multimedia event at Florence's Palazzo Strozzi, opening in March, entitled 'Galileo: Images of the Universe from Antiquity to the Telescope'. This will examine the history of conceptions of the cosmos, with archaeological finds, scientific instruments, star maps, drawings, paintings and precious manuscripts from around the world. ''The multidisciplinary nature of this show and the use of different multimedia will provide an absolutely first-rate experience for visitors,'' said Florence museum superintendent, Cristina Acidini. ''It will bring to life the instruments and models used by scientists that have studied the sky and the planets over the years''. Outside Italy, a series of international events have been lined up for the IYA. April 2-5 will see '100 Hours of Astronomy', an event bringing together people from around the world to observe and share astronomical events during a 100-hour period. 'Galileoscope', running all year round, aims to give 10 million people their first look through an astronomical telescope in 2009. It will do this by encouraging amateur astronomers to introduce others to the experience and by developing a simple telescope that is easy to assemble and use, which can be distributed for free. 'Universe Awareness' will introduce kids from deprived backgrounds to ''the scale and beauty of the Universe'', teaching them about the background of modern astronomy and trying to spark an interest in science. IYA will also see the launch of 'The Portal To The Universe' website, containing a host of news, photographs, videos and information open to everyone, allowing users to tap and share live data. Galileo (1564-1642) created his first telescope in 1608, based on descriptions from the Netherlands where the device was invented. He initially produced a lens able to magnify objects threefold and soon after created a lens with a magnification of 32. This put him in a nearly unique position, as he was one of the few people at the time with a lens powerful enough to observe the sky. He started making regular recorded observations in 1609 and in 1610, discovered three of Jupiter's moons. He initially thought they were stars but observing their changing position, soon concluded they were orbiting Jupiter. Galileo later used his powerful telescope to observe the various phases of Venus. Both sets of observations played a crucial role in his conclusion that the sun was at the centre of the universe, rather than the Earth, as was commonly believed at the time. Church opposition to Galileo's sun-centred model flared up immediately in 1612 and would dog Galileo for the rest of his life. In 1633 he was tried and convicted of heresy and a ban was imposed on the publication or reprinting of any of his works. He was then placed under house arrest, where he spent the remaining nine years of his life

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