Tuesday, August 25, 2009


If you're like me, you won't let this evening pass without raising a glass to old Galileo Galilei, on tonight's 400th anniversary of his remarkable telescope's debut.

It was this ingenious device that enabled the Father of Modern Science to first observe the Mountains of the Moon (see The Grateful Dead's Aoxomoxoa) and, most relevantly to my own explorations, discover the moons of Jupiter.

Of course, Galileo didn't invent the telescope. The first telescopes were built by illiterate sixteenth century craftsmen -- imaginative, resourceful, their names now lost to history -- basically the session musicians of the early Renaissance. The lenses of these early telescopes were aimed around the surface the world, spotting land from crow's nests, spying on Medici armies, peering into the windows of attractive Tuscan neighbors. But it was Galileo who first thought to point the telescope up, into the heavens, and perfected its design with the stars in mind. In just a few short months he had mapped Earth's moon and identified the four largest of Jupiter's sixtysome satellites, which he named, with all the poetry of a Led Zeppelin album title, "Jupiter 1," "Jupiter 2," "Jupiter 3," and "Jupiter 4."

It was actually Galileo's contemporary, rival, and alleged plagiarist Simon Marius who gave the Jovian moons the names we use today: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, after four of the Roman god Jupiter's mythological squeezes.

And it was Simon Marius who, in what was dismissed at the time as only a syphilitic hallucination, first spotted the Lost Moon of Jupiter, the quiet little rock where I now make my home.

So here's to Galileo, Simon Marius, and all the other stargazers of the past four hundred years. Keep watching the skies, friends.

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