Long lost Galileo letter found at Royal Society library

September 26, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org weblog

The first and last page of Galileo’s letter to his friend Benedetto Castelli. The last page shows his signature, “G. G.”.Credit: The Royal Society
Nature journalist Alison Abbott has published a News and Comment piece in the journal detailing the finding of a letter in a Royal Society library purported to have been written by famed early scientist Galileo Galilei. The letter is significant because it offers proof of an attempt by the scientist to play down his arguments regarding controversial astronomy ideas.

Galileo is known for discoveries he made using one of the earliest telescopes—and for fighting with the Catholic church about the position of the sun and the planets. His studies convinced him that Nicolaus Copernicus had been right 100 years earlier—the Earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. After he published a paper titled "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," the Inquisition of the Catholic Church sentenced him to house arrest for the final nine years of his life.

The circumstances of his initial troubles with the church are curious, however, with regard to the disappearance of a he wrote to a friend and colleague almost 20 years earlier. In that letter, he spelled out his views regarding the placement of the sun and planets and his belief that certain sections of the Bible regarding the place of the Earth in the universe should not be taken literally. The letter made it into the hands of a man named Niccolò Lorini who passed a copy of it to church authorities. Worried that the letter might get him into trouble, Galileo edited certain sections of the original letter to make it more palatable and sent it to a church official, claiming that Lorini had doctored his note. But then the original edited letter was lost to history. Without it, historians have argued about whether Galileo tried to prevent trouble by diluting his arguments. Now, that argument seems to have been settled with the discovery of the original letter.

The letter was found by Salvatore Ricciardo of the University of Bergamo. He was browsing through a catalog at a Royal Society library when he came upon the letter and immediately recognized its significance. Initial testing suggests that it is authentic—Galileo's original letter with parts crossed out and new words added as he attempted to soften his arguments.

Explore further: Letter from DNA discoverer to be auctioned in NYC

More information: Alison Abbott. Discovery of Galileo's long-lost letter shows he edited his heretical ideas to fool the Inquisition, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-018-06769-4

Related Stories

Letter from DNA discoverer to be auctioned in NYC

March 24, 2013

(AP)—Sixty years ago this month, scientist Francis Crick wrote a letter to his 12-year-old son saying he and a colleague had discovered something "very beautiful"—the structure of DNA.

Einstein letter fetches $100,000 at Jerusalem auction

March 6, 2018

A letter penned by legendary physicist Albert Einstein discussing one of his groundbreaking theories sold in Jerusalem Tuesday for over $100,000 as part of trove of documents that went under the hammer.

Recommended for you

Milky Way's neighbors pick up the pace

January 22, 2019

After slowly forming stars for the first few billion years of their lives, the Magellanic Clouds, near neighbors of our own Milky Way galaxy, have upped their game and are now forming new stars at a fast clip. This new insight ...

A fleeting moment in time

January 22, 2019

The faint, ephemeral glow emanating from the planetary nebula ESO 577-24 persists for only a short time—around 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms. ESO's Very Large Telescope captured this shell of glowing ...

How hot are atoms in the shock wave of an exploding star?

January 21, 2019

A new method to measure the temperature of atoms during the explosive death of a star will help scientists understand the shock wave that occurs as a result of this supernova explosion. An international team of researchers, ...

New eclipsing cataclysmic variable discovered

January 21, 2019

Using the Mobile Astronomical System of Telescope-Robots (MASTER), an international team of astronomers has detected a new eclipsing cataclysmic variable. The newfound object, designated MASTER OT J061451.70–272535.5, is ...

The disintegrating exoplanet K2-22b

January 21, 2019

Exoplanet surveys have yielded many surprises over the years, and the discovery of "disintegrating" exoplanets was one of them. These are planets that produce asymmetric shapes in the dips of the light curves seen as they ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.