Scientists to solve Galileo astronomical riddle

Italian scientists are trying to get Galileo\’s DNA in order to figure out how the astronomer forged groundbreaking theories on the universe while gradually becoming blind, a historian said.


Scientists at Florence\’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science want to exhume the body of 17th Century astronomer Galileo Galilei to find out exactly what he could see through his telescope.

The Italian astronomer who built on the work of predecessor Nicolaus Copernicus to develop modern astronomy with the sun as the centre of the universe had a degenerative eye disease that eventually left him blind.

“If we succeed, thanks to DNA, in understanding how this disease distorted his sight, it could bring about important discoveries for the history of science,” said the institute\’s director, Paolo Galluzzi.

“We could explain certain mistakes that Galileo made: why he described the planet Saturn as having \’lateral ears\’ rather than having seen it encircled by rings for example,” said Galluzzi.

Replication sought

In an effort to recreate what Galileo — who lived from 1564 to 1642 — saw, the scientific team has made an exact replica of his telescope.

They now want to get DNA proof of what ophthalmologists have said was a genetic eye disease and thereby more fully understand the conditions under which he made observations that revolutionised our understanding of the cosmos.

It will take the team one year to raise the 300,000 euros (390,000 dollars) needed to finance the project and clear administrative hurdles to open Galileo\’s tomb in Florence\’s Santa Croce Basilica, Galluzzi said.

Galileo celebrated

The United Nations proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy, marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo\’s observations.

In 1609, he discovered spots on the Sun, craters and peaks on the surface of the Moon and satellites orbiting Jupiter, thereby confirming Copernicus\’s theory that planets orbit the Sun rather than the Earth.