History of science and science combined: solving a historical problem in optics—the case of Galileo and his telescope

Archive for History of Exact Sciences 71 (4):337-344 (2017)
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Abstract

The claim that Galileo Galilei transformed the spyglass into an astronomical instrument has never been disputed and is considered a historical fact. However, the question what was the procedure which Galileo followed is moot, for he did not disclose his research method. On the traditional view, Galileo was guided by experience, more precisely, systematized experience, which was current among northern Italian artisans and men of science. In other words, it was a trial-and-error procedure—no theory was involved. A scientific analysis of the optical properties of Galileo’s first improved spyglass shows that his procedure could not have been an informed extension of the traditional optics of spectacles. We argue that most likely Galileo realized that the objective and the eyepiece form a system and proceeded accordingly.

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Giora Hon
University of Haifa

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