A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2009 Jan 16, 12:30 +1100
Deborah Smith Science Editor
January 16, 2009
GALILEO may be the star of the International Year of Astronomy, which was launched last night in Paris to mark 400 years since he revolutionised our knowledge of the universe, but the Italian does not deserve his reputation as the first to observe and draw a celestial object with the aid of a telescope.
British experts say Galileo was beaten to that punch by an Englishman, Thomas Harriot, who drew a picture of the moon using a Dutch telescope.
Harriot's crude sketch, dated July 26, 1609, predates Galileo's first images of the moon by four months, said Allan Chapman, a science historian at the University of Oxford. He has set out his evidence in a new paper published by the Royal Astronomical Society.
"Thomas Harriot is an unsung hero of science. His drawings mark the beginning of the era of modern astronomy we now live in," Dr Chapman said.
The English mathematician was single and rich and did not want to draw attention to himself by publishing his astronomical work because some of his patrons had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, he said.
"Unlike Galileo, Thomas Harriot was not an agenda- or career-driven individual."
The Italian professor, on the other hand, was poorly paid, did not like his university job and had a complicated family life. "He wanted fame, comfort and security, and the telescope opened up such possibilities to him," Dr Chapman said.
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