DARE TO DREAM BIG!: From Ostracized Scientist to “The Father of Modern Astronomy”

Encourage your kids to DARE TO DREAM BIG!

Imagine This: You believe that Copernicus was right and that the earth does revolve around the sun, and you set out to prove it at the risk of displeasing the Church and many of those in authority.

You’re born in Pisa, Italy, in 1564, the eldest of seven children of an old and noble Florentine family line that has fallen on hard times.

Your mother is well educated which is unusual for women of her day. And your father is a respected musician and an outspoken uncompromising man who defends his ideas regardless of whom he challenges or offends. From an early age, you’re taught by your father to think for yourself and to question authority.

Your family moves from Pisa to Florence, a cultural center, where you study Latin, Greek, mathematics, religion, music, and painting. Your constant questioning while still a student, earns you the nickname “The Wrangler.”

At seventeen you enroll as a medical student at the University of Pisa, and your financially strained family hopes you will become a rich doctor.

While in the Cathedral of Pisa three years later, your attention is drawn to a big lamp hanging from the cathedral ceiling which is swaying in a draft. You time its movements with the beat of your pulse and discover that each swing of the lamp, no matter how great or small, takes the same amount of time. At twenty years of age, you have recognized a simple truth, the Law of the Pendulum. You then go on to design the pendulum clock which advances the study of physics and astronomy.

You give up the study of medicine because you’re more interested in matter, energy, motion, and force--the science of physics. Over the next several years, you master mathematics and physics with the help of a family friend, Ostilio Ricci, a professor of mathematics. 

Your reputation is growing, and you return to the University of Pisa in 1589 as a professor of mathematics. You quickly make enemies, however, by challenging a nearly two-thousand-year-old theory of Aristotle’s.    

Aristotle believed that if two different weights were dropped from the same height, the heavier weight would hit the ground first. You test this theory by dropping several weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They fall at the same speed, and you observe that the longer an object falls, the faster it falls. But those who are loyal followers of Aristotle refuse to believe their eyes, and they force you out of the university.

When you build a telescope which allows you to see an object thirty-three times larger than its actual size, you begin to study the stars. And the more you study the stars, the more convinced you become that Copernicus was right—that the earth is not the center of the universe.

In 1610 you publish a small book, The Starry Messenger, in which you describe your observations, and you begin to make and sell your telescopes, so that people can verify your observations for themselves. But many people refuse to use your telescope, preferring to cling to their old beliefs.

Your heavenly explorations meet with powerful resistance because they’re in opposition to the beliefs long held by the Catholic Church. In 1616 Pope Paul V officially denounces the Copernican theory, and you are instructed to stop teaching Copernican cosmology. But by 1632, you can no longer deny the truth, and you publish Dialogue--your most famous work, which supports the work of Copernicus and ridicules the followers of Aristotle.

When you die in 1642 at age seventy-seven, you’re still considered guilty of spreading beliefs that are contrary to Church teachings, and Pope Urban VIII never forgives you for your disobedience.

It’s not until 1992, after a 13-year debate over the conflict between science and faith, that Pope John Paul II formally closes the Catholic Church’s case against you and acknowledges the truth of your findings and those of Copernicus. 

In your uncompromising search for the truth, you usher in the scientific revolution and will eventually become known as “The Father of Modern Astronomy.” You are truly a man who changed the world!

                                                 “The earth does move.”

                                                Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

Excerpted from They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

For More about


Giving Back: Galileo published his astronomical findings, even though he knew there could be serious repercussions from the Catholic Church, because he believed that it was important for people to know the truth.

Did You Know  that Galileo’s findings about falling weights helped Isaac Newton develop his Law of Universal Gravity?

Something to Think about: Do you think Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church was simply a conflict between science and religion or do you think it was more a matter of a complex power struggle?

Willoughby and I hope you enjoyed this week’s true story and will be back next week for another story to inspire you to DARE TO DREAM BIG!


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