IV. THE NEW COSMOLOGY—COPERNICUS TO KEPLER AND GALILEO
Doubtless a large number of experimenters took the matter up and the fame of the new instrument spread rapidly abroad. Galileo, down in Italy, heard rumors of this remarkable contrivance, through the use of which it was said "distant objects might be seen as clearly as those near at hand." He at once set to work to construct for himself a similar instrument, and his efforts were so far successful that at first he "saw objects three times as near and nine times enlarged." Continuing his efforts, he presently so improved his glass that objects were enlarged almost a thousand times and made to appear thirty times nearer than when seen with the naked eye. Naturally enough, Galileo turned this fascinating instrument towards the skies, and he was almost immediately rewarded by several startling discoveries. At the very outset, his magnifying-glass brought to view a vast number of stars that are invisible to the naked eye, and enabled the observer to reach the conclusion that the hazy light of the Milky Way is merely due to the aggregation of a vast number of tiny stars.
Turning his telescope towards the moon, Galileo found that body rough and earth-like in contour, its surface covered with mountains, whose height could be approximately measured through study of their shadows. This was disquieting, because the current Aristotelian doctrine supposed the moon, in common with the planets, to be a perfectly spherical, smooth body. The metaphysical idea of a perfect universe was sure to be disturbed by this seemingly rough workmanship of the moon. Thus far, however, there was nothing in the observations of Galileo to bear directly upon the Copernican theory; but when an inspection was made of the planets the case was quite different. With the aid of his telescope, Galileo saw that Venus, for example, passes through phases precisely similar to those of the moon, due, of course, to the same cause. Here, then, was demonstrative evidence that the planets are dark bodies reflecting the light of the sun, and an explanation was given of the fact, hitherto urged in opposition to the Copernican theory, that the inferior planets do not seem many times brighter when nearer the earth than when in the most distant parts of their orbits; the explanation being, of course, that when the planets are between the earth and the sun only a small portion of their illumined surfaces is visible from the earth.
On inspecting the planet Jupiter, a still more striking revelation was made, as four tiny stars were observed to occupy an equatorial position near that planet, and were seen, when watched night after night, to be circling about the planet, precisely as the moon circles about the earth. Here, obviously, was a miniature solar system—a tangible object-lesson in the Copernican theory. In honor of the ruling Florentine house of the period, Galileo named these moons of Jupiter, Medicean stars.
Turning attention to the sun itself, Galileo observed on the surface of that luminary a spot or blemish which gradually changed its shape, suggesting that changes were taking place in the substance of the sun—changes obviously incompatible with the perfect condition demanded by the metaphysical theorists. But however disquieting for the conservative, the sun's spots served a most useful purpose in enabling Galileo to demonstrate that the sun itself revolves on its axis, since a given spot was seen to pass across the disk and after disappearing to reappear in due course. The period of rotation was found to be about twenty-four days.
It must be added that various observers disputed priority of discovery of the sun's spots with Galileo. Unquestionably a sun-spot had been seen by earlier observers, and by them mistaken for the transit of an inferior planet. Kepler himself had made this mistake. Before the day of the telescope, he had viewed the image of the sun as thrown on a screen in a camera-obscura, and had observed a spot on the disk which be interpreted as representing the planet Mercury, but which, as is now known, must have been a sun-spot, since the planetary disk is too small to have been revealed by this method. Such observations as these, however interesting, cannot be claimed as discoveries of the sun-spots. It is probable, however, that several discoverers (notably Johann Fabricius) made the telescopic observation of the spots, and recognized them as having to do with the sun's surface, almost simultaneously with Galileo. One of these claimants was a Jesuit named Scheiner, and the jealousy of this man is said to have had a share in bringing about that persecution to which we must now refer.