On February 15, 1564 Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy. His is one of the names from history that most people recognize. He's well known for his persecution by the Church for insisting that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. And for dropping cannon balls off the tower of Pisa.

Actually, his interaction with the Church is more complex than that and some of it relates to his personality.

As for the cannon balls, no way. He did his experiments with falling bodies by rolling them down inclined planes. Once upon a time, as a student of the Open University in the UK, I had to do this using the kitchen table, rubber balls and a stopwatch. I think Galileo's inclined planes worked better, and he didn't have a cat that wanted to help. Though the stopwatch was an improvement over his timing device.

But for a different view of Galileo I highly recommend Dava Sobel's book Galileo's Daughter. It's a good read - Sobel's books are always good - and centers on Galileo's letters from his daughter.

Mona Evans
For news, activities, pictures and more, sign up to the Astronomy Newsletter!