What invention changed how we think about planets? It could be Galileo’s telescope or Tycho Brahe’s telescope or it could be Hubble’s telescope. All were significant in changing the way scientists view the universe and they have impacted our understanding of space and our planets to this day. Discovering the moons of Jupiter with a telescope changed the way we view the solar system.
Tycho Brahe’s invention
When Tycho Brahe discovered that the stars and planets are not attached to the Earth he began to use new instruments to study them. This led to the development of a new system known as the Tychonic. The system Tycho developed incorporated Copernicus’ ideas of the heavenly bodies orbiting the Earth and combined them with the Ptolemaic system. Tycho’s findings eventually led to the development of laws of planetary motion.
After a successful tour of Germany and Switzerland Tycho Brahe returned to Denmark. His father was a powerful man and his male children tended to become warriors serving the interests of the Danish nobility and King. But luckily Tycho’s foster mother was an academic and persuaded his foster father to give him the chance to attend school. He was likely to attend grammar school. While at school he most likely learned classical languages mathematics and Lutheran religion.
Tycho Brahe’s invention revolutionized our understanding of the planets and their movement. The Copernican model centered the sun and earth on opposite sides of the sky and Tycho wanted to solve the problem. In fact he rejected the Copernicus model altogether as it failed to take parallax into account. He proposed a variant model which was accepted for centuries in which the earth is stationary and the sun and moon orbit it. All other planets are supposed to orbit the sun.
Another important invention that Tycho Brahe made was an astrolabe. This instrument allowed astronomers to measure the altitude of celestial objects above the horizon and observed their positions in detail. This model led to the heliocentric astronomy that we use today. Once the instruments were calibrated and regulated they became more accurate and precise than ever. The telescopes Tycho Brahe used were accurate to within a degree.
In the same way that modern science is based on observations and calculations Tycho’s invention changed the way we think about planets and constellations. He made sketches of planet motion and developed observational notebooks to document his observations. The result of this work changed how we think about planets and how we view the sky. With these we are better equipped to study the planets and their motion and see how to predict them in the future.
In 1582 Italian Renaissance man Galileo built a telescope using his new knowledge. He used it to gather evidence and establish a sun-centered model of the solar system. Galileo’s instruments had a convex objective lens mounted at one end and a concave eyepiece at the other. In the first version the telescope magnified objects only eight times. Later Galileo’s telescope was improved to magnify objects twenty times larger than the naked eye.
In 1612 Galileo used his telescope to observe the planet Neptune. He believed Neptune was a distant star and the rings of Saturn were separate bodies. His next discovery was a way to measure the speed of light by dropping balls of different mass off the leaning tower of Pisa. This experiment disproved Aristotle’s belief that planets rotate according to their rotation.
Galileo’s discoveries shocked the Catholic Church which had been based on the Aristotelian view of the universe. His observations uncovered the flaws of celestial objects and strengthened Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. At the same time Galileo’s observations led to a religious debate between believers and nonbelievers. Many biblical literalists argued that Joshua’s description of the Sun contradicted Galileo’s findings.
Despite the widespread support for the Copernican theory Galileo’s discovery caused trouble for the Catholic Church. Galileo’s work in changing the way the world sees planets caused him to face severe opposition. He was placed on trial by the Roman Inquisition which found him guilty of heresy and forced him to retract his findings. Galileo spent the last two years of his life under house arrest and his death was a result of his imprisonment.
In addition to his revolutionary telescope Galileo also made major discoveries about other objects in space. During his lifetime he discovered the moon’s mountain ranges the four moons of Jupiter the phases of Venus the dark spots that trace the face of the Sun and the enigmatic ‘ears’ of Saturn. He also discovered countless stars that were invisible to the naked eye.
Newton’s laws of planetary motion and universal gravitation were revolutionary in describing the nature of space and influenced our understanding of the motion of planets and moons around the Sun. The laws of gravity are the main reason why objects fall to Earth or orbit other heavenly bodies and explain why the weight of the Earth is greater than that of the Moon. In addition Newton’s laws proved that the Sun and Moon are not in opposition to each other but rather move in the same plane.
Newton began by trying to explain the speed of falling objects but found that there was no mathematical explanation for it. He then took this void as an opportunity to create a new theory and incorporated planetary ellipses into it. He then applied calculus to explain planet motion and orbits. The laws of gravitation helped us understand the motion of planets. Now we can use them to understand the motion of the moon and planets.
In 1687 Isaac Newton’s laws of planetary motion were given a physical explanation. He applied the same principles to other phenomena and this essentially eliminated all doubts regarding the validity of Kepler’s heliocentric model of the cosmos. As a result his laws became the basis of mechanics. His law of universal gravitation combined celestial and terrestrial mechanics into one unified system. Ultimately this idea of a gravitational force seemed to describe the world and the universe in mathematical terms.
In 1687 Isaac Newton published his Principia a book that lays out his laws of motion. This work supported Newton’s third law which states that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. These laws paved the way for today’s scientific discoveries allowing scientists to understand the physical world. And his discoveries in physics and mathematics led to the development of modern science.
A century ago when Hubble first launched his telescope scientists didn’t have any idea about the vast distances between the Earth and the sun. Now with the Hubble Space Telescope we can observe planets and stars from a distance never before possible. In a matter of months Hubble’s images have shown scientists the largest galaxy ever seen the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Hubble images also reveal black holes which devour everything around them including light. This has helped scientists learn about explosions when giant stars burn out.
Hubble’s discovery revolutionized the way we think about the universe. The telescope’s mirror was the most precisely ground in history with variations of only 10 nanometers (one-tenth of a human hair). Unfortunately the telescope’s first years were marred by numerous errors including the incorrect assembly of the null corrector. The original design called for Hubble to spend at least 100 hours staring at a blank sky but the first pictures of the telescope were fuzzy.
After his service in the war Major Hubble returned to the United States where observational astronomy was flourishing at Mount Wilson Observatory. The 100-inch Hooker Telescope was the largest telescope on Earth at the time. Although he was not awarded the Nobel Prize for his work he tried for it throughout his life. In the late 1940s he hired a publicity agent to publicize his cause. However he was unable to reach the prize and died in 1953.
In addition to discovering planets and stars Hubble helped us understand how the universe works. Hubble’s observations helped scientists measure the age and expansion of the universe. Hubble was instrumental in proving that massive stars explode in a fiery death called a supernova. These violent outbursts can leave behind black holes and supercompact neutron stars which blow heavy elements through the galaxy.
In the last quarter century Hubble has become a hero in the world of astrophysics. The Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized planetary science and the way we look at the cosmos. Now we can see planets and other stars in greater detail than ever before. Using the Hubble we can travel to faraway places and learn more about the planets and their surroundings.