Historical Astronomers in Context


Galileo Galilei (February 15, 1564 – January 8, 1642) made the telescope famous by improving upon spyglasses in order to increase their magnification and observe phenomena in space. He discovered that neither the sun nor the moon are smooth, observed the phases of Venus, and discovered the 4 biggest moons of Jupiter. Considering that in his lifetime Copernican Heliocentrism was accepted, Galileo’s discoveries of Venus’ phases and Jupiter’s moons were major evidence against the Copernican theory. He was convicted of heresy after publishing his work discrediting the theory and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

Other Events During his Lifetime

The French wars of religion took place between 1562 and 1598. This was a period of multiple civil wars and treaties between Roman Catholics and Huguenots (French Protestants). Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes was first published in 1641. This book was Descartes’ attempt to get rid of all beliefs that he could not be absolutely certain of, and then tries to objectively determine what actually can be known for sure. It’s a work widely renowned among philosophers today.

Another Famous Figure in Galileo’s Lifetime

William Shakespeare (April 26, 1564 – April 23, 1616), well known for Romeo and Juliet, was an amazing writer that created surprisingly relatable content that has withstood the test of time. He was born shortly after Galileo but died way earlier. Interestingly enough, he is connected to astronomy as well. The majority of Uranus’ moons are named after characters from Shakespeare’s works.


I always enjoy revisiting interesting historical events and discoveries. I think it’s important to understand where things and ideas come from and the impact they had at the time of their creation. I knew most of this information previously, but I always seem to find some new piece of knowledge by reviewing this area of history. So many things were going on. Some of the biggest discoveries and achievements of astronomy, literature and philosophy took place in the same period. It’s amazing to think that these great minds in human history broke so much ground while living at the same time independent of one another. Imagine if they had the technology we have today to instantaneously spread the word of their accomplishments!

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