Galileo is perhaps best known as the guy who proved Copernicus right about the sun sitting in the center of our solar system. But this proof would have been impossible without the improvements Galileo made to the telescope, which allowed him to see into the world beyond our planet like never before. And it turns out that these instruments might have been more advanced than we’ve ever given Galileo credit for.
In a new paper, researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel explain that after studying Galileo’s still-existing telescopes, they’re certain Galileo must have had novel theories of optics that he never shared with anyone. It’s the only possible explanation for the advancements he made to telescope optics.
Hrm. That’s an intriguing theory, but one that’s hard to prove. Let’s see what’s going on here.
As MIT’s Technology Review notes, most people think that Galileo’s improvements to the telescope were merely an evolution to the existing spy glass technology of the day. But really, the improvements are remarkable enough that they could well have been derived from an entirely new way of thinking about optics:
Its improvements were extraordinary. Between the summer 1609 and the beginning of January 1610, Galileo increased the magnification of his telescope by a factor of 21. He also introduced a number of modifications, such as the ability to control its aperture, that helped to reduce optical aberrations.
After reviewing these advancements and comparing them to the otherwise existing technology from the 16th century, the researchers say Galileo’s improvements were too radical to be mere extensions of what already existed. We already knew Galileo was a genius, so if they’re right I guess that just makes him an extra genius? [Arxiv.org via Technology Review]