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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Galileo's Birthday

Today we celebrate Galileo's birthday (14 February 1564).
Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636.jpg

His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter, and the observation and analysis of sunspots.

Galileo made original contributions to the science of motion by showing a remarkably modern appreciation for the proper relationship between mathematics, theoretical physics, and experimental physics. 
A biography by Galileo's pupil Vincenzo Viviani stated that Galileo had dropped balls of the same material, but different masses, from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass.Galileo proposed that a falling body would fall with a uniform acceleration, as long as the resistance of the medium through which it was falling remained negligible, or in the limiting case of its falling through a vacuum. He also derived the correct kinematical law for the distance travelled during a uniform acceleration starting from rest—namely, that it is proportional to the square of the elapsed time ( d ∝ t 2 ). Prior to Galileo, Nicole Oresme, in the 14th century, had derived the times-squared law for uniformly accelerated change, and Domingo de Soto had suggested in the 16th century that bodies falling through a homogeneous medium would be uniformly accelerated. Galileo expressed the time-squared law using geometrical constructions and mathematically precise words, adhering to the standards of the day. (It remained for others to re-express the law in algebraic terms).
He also concluded that objects retain their velocity unless a force—often friction—acts upon them, refuting the generally accepted Aristotelian hypothesis that objects "naturally" slow down and stop unless a force acts upon them. Galileo was the first to express it mathematically, verify it experimentally, and introduce the idea of frictional force, the key breakthrough in validating the concept. Galileo's Principle of Inertia stated: "A body moving on a level surface will continue in the same direction at constant speed unless disturbed." This principle was incorporated into Newton's laws of motion (first law). (adapted from Wikipedia)
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