Recreating Galileo’s Discovery: 400 Years Later
Four hundred years ago, on January 7, 1610, Galileo pointed his telescope at the planet Jupiter and discovered that it had its own moons. This discovery changed our perspective on the universe.
Prior to Galileo’s discovery, the Earth-centric Ptolemaic system was the standard view of the cosmos where Earth was the center–heaven was above and Earth was below. Copernicus had proposed a heliocentric model, but it was a mental exercise meant to simplify the complicated Ptolemaic system. Galileo’s discovery was the first one that showed evidence that something was orbiting a body other than Earth. If Jupiter had things in orbit around it, why couldn’t other bodies?
At the time telescopes were cutting-edge, and only a few people had them. What Galileo did was an instructive example on how to combine technology and curiosity.
Among the pods about Jupiter, there is a graphic showing the current configuration of the so-called “Galilean moons”, the ones Galileo saw 400 years ago: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
You can even virtually recreate Galileo’s observations for yourself. Here’s how he depicted what he saw 400 years ago on the night of January 7:
And here is what he saw a few days later:
In Galileo’s diagrams, the circle represents Jupiter, and the asterisks represent the moons he observed. He didn’t know they were moons until the second observation, when they had changed position.
Here’s what the venerable scientist would see tonight from Padua, courtesy of the input “Jupiter from Padua January 7 10pm” in Wolfram|Alpha:
Using the same input construct for the two following nights, our virtual discoverers would see the following:
Of course, when it comes to discovering things with new technology, we have our own big story. Our company founder, Stephen Wolfram, has spent the past 30 years exploring the computational universe… and in 1984 he made what he considers his greatest single discovery when he pointed not a telescope, but a computer, at the computational universe, and discovered the “rule 30” cellular automaton.
For Stephen Wolfram, that discovery launched what became his A New Kind of Science, provided part of the foundation that made Wolfram|Alpha possible, and is steadily expanding in influence across science, technology, and the arts.
Where will Stephen Wolfram’s discovery lead in 400 years? Galileo’s discovery of 1610 in many ways launched modern exact science, and led to the technology of today. Stephen Wolfram’s discovery seems to be leading us to a new kind of science—and new kinds of technology, like Wolfram|Alpha.