Your guide to collecting stamps honouring Galileo


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10 October 2018
We take a look at the life of the physicist, mathematician and astronomer Galileo and chart the many stamps to have honoured the 'father of science'

It's not surprising that Galileo's belief that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun was met with objections by fellow scientists and members of the church four centuries ago. However it is rather astonishing that it was only in 1992 that the Vatican officially recognised the validity of Galileo's work.

By supporting Copernicus' view, Galileo questioned the view that the universe was geocentric, meaning the sun revolved around the earth, and was found guilty of heresy.

Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy in 1564 and was the eldest of the six children of Vincenzio Galilei and Giulia Ammannati. In 1581 his father encouraged him to study medicine at the University of Pisa, however after two years he opted for mathematics.

In 1964, several stamps were issued to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo's birth from countries including Italy, Hungary, Russia, Romania and Czechoslovakia, as part of their Cultural Anniversaries issues.

In 1592 Galileo moved to a prestigious mathematics post at the University of Padua where he taught geometry, mechanics, and astronomy until 1610. While there he made significant discoveries regarding pure science - kinematics of motion and astronomy, and applied science - strength of materials and the telescope.

In 1602, he discovered that the time it takes for a pendulum to swing back and forth does not depend on the arc of the swing, which led to further discoveries about time intervals.

Galileo has been honoured on many issues from his home country, having made his first appearance on the country's definitive stamps in 1933, one of the first non-royals to be featured. He was also depicted on a set of four stamps in 1942 to mark the tercentenary of his death and in 1983 on one of a two-stamp issue, the other featuring Archimedes.

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In 1608, Hans Lippershey invented a basic telescope in Holland, prompting Galileo to create a similar instrument which also had three times magnification. The device allowed him to see upright images of the earth and observe the sky, and later that year he produced a telescope that had twenty times magnification.

On August 25, 1609 he presented his first telescope to the Venetian state and published his initial telescopic astronomical observations in 1610 in a paper entitled Sidereus Nuncius (or Starry Messenger). In the same year he discovered the four satellites of Jupiter, looked at the moon, observed a supernova and discovered sunspots. It was these observations that proved Copernicus' theories.

Galileo's discoveries have led to him taking a place on many stamp issues which celebrate pioneers in his field.

In 1971 he appeared in the Evolution of Space Travel issue from Ascension Islands along with the moon and a telescope, in 1982 he featured in San Marino's Pioneers of Science issue and in 1971 he is depicted on Mexico's Early Astronomers release.

In 1994 he appeared on Nicaragua's Astronomers series, in 1969 he featured on Yemen's Space Exploration issue and in 2000 he is depicted on Ireland's New Millennium Discoveries issue.

However, Galileo's support of the Copernican system did not meet with approval by the Catholic Church. When he faced the Inquisition, whose role was to eradicate heresy, Galileo was warned that he should not discuss Copernican theories.

In 1624, Pope Urban VIII allowed him to write about Copernican theories as a mathematic proposition, however, when he printed his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo was summoned to Rome in 1633 to face the Inquisition again. This time he was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

In 1638 he was allowed to move to his home in Florence and on January 8, 1642 he died.  In 1987, the 345th anniversary of his death was commemorated on a stamp from Albania.