Galileo Galilei and Discovery of the Galilean Moons

Galileo Galilei was perhaps the first person to effectively use a telescope to explore the heavens, and is credited with being the first person to use a telescope to look at Jupiter. In January 1610 he noticed three star-like objects lined up in a row in Jupiter's equatorial plane (he eventually discovered a forth one). This alignment apparently aroused his deep curiosity and he eventually came to the conclusion that they must be in orbit around Jupiter! What a discovery! Seeing that another planet had bodies in orbit about itself, and knowing of the problems with the orbital theories of the time, Galileo came to the further conclusion that the Earth must not be the center of the motions that were observed in the universe. Having previously been encouraged in his other scientific studies by the Church in Rome, Galileo made his findings known to the Pope. Much to his disappointment, the Church soon took exception to his assertions that Earth was not the center of the universe and forbade him to continue his research or to even discuss it openly. He was subsequently placed under house arrest. Of course, we now know that Galileo was correct, but at the time Jupiter presented him with what was truly a life-threatening situation! These four moons are now known as the 'Galilean moons'.

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