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Moon Space Science

Mapping the Moon Before Galileo 60

ClockEndGooner writes "The BBC has posted an interesting piece on a British contemporary of Galileo who observed the surface of the moon and drew up a more complete set of lunar maps before the much celebrated Florentine. The first lunar cartographer, Thomas Harriot, who also made an early visit to the Jamestown colony in Virginia, observed the moon with an early telescope and mapped his observations five months before Galileo. Noted British astronomer, Sir Patrick Moore, is quoted in the article: 'I'm sorry Harriot isn't better known over here... after all, we all know Galileo. But Harriot was first... and his map of the Moon is better than Galileo's.' Harriot's achievement may not have been as well known, since he deliberately kept a low profile as two of his friends were imprisoned in the Tower of London for political crimes."
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Mapping the Moon Before Galileo

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  • Huh? Why? (Score:5, Funny)

    by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:00PM (#26453205) Homepage
    I don't think it's changed all that much.
  • And...? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SputnikPanic ( 927985 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:13PM (#26453439)

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it...

    Galileo stuck his neck out for his views and incurred the wrath of the Church. Of course his achievement would be better known than that of someone who was keeping a low profile.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It seems to me that you're misreading ignorance into Moore's words. (You do know who he is, right?)

      All he says is that he's sorry Harriot isn't better known over here. It's a bit of an english idiom for 'more widely known' but if Moore had meant 'better known than Gallileo', or even 'better known than Gallileo for this particular job' he'd have said it. I'd imagine he's quite aware of Gallileo's other achievements.

      • Re:And...? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SputnikPanic ( 927985 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:08PM (#26454363)

        No question that Moore is well aware of Galileo's other achievements. But I sort of regard this accomplishment of Harriot's in the same way I do the Norse exploration/colonization of North America. Yes, it was quite a feat, and yes (to acknowledge the point of TFA) it deserves to be known, but did it fundamentally change what came after? Not really. History focuses on those who affect other people and the course of later events.

    • Re:And...? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by shellbeach ( 610559 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @06:37PM (#26456939)

      If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it...

      Galileo stuck his neck out for his views and incurred the wrath of the Church. Of course his achievement would be better known than that of someone who was keeping a low profile.

      But Galileo's observations of the moon had nothing to do with his (much later) encounter with the inquisition. In fact, after Galileo published his telescopic observations of the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and various stars in 1610, he was feted by the Pope and the Jesuit College as a scientific hero. (The first friction between Galileo and the church occurred six years later, in 1616; but the real trouble -- when he was hauled before the inquisition -- didn't start until 1631.) The issue here is the old scientific game of "who did what first".

      That said, this really isn't news; Harriot's 1609 unpublished maps have been known about for years.

    • Although Galileo didn't incur the wrath of the Church for making his moon-map, that was for the entirely different achievment of proving earth wasn't the center of the universe.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Well, strictly speaking, he *didn't* prove it, that was the whole difficulty. You have to appreciate the mindset of the time - the Bible was the revealed word of God and so parts of it were taken as literal truth. There were grounds for re-interpretation of the Bible, it had been done before, but it required solid evidence and Galileo couldn't provide that evidence (at least, to the satisfaction of the paticular ecclesiastical figures he was dealing with).
        His biggest mistake was in his "A dialogue on the tw

    • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it...

      ...It still can kill a squirrel

  • by Schiphol ( 1168667 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:21PM (#26453581)
    Galileo discovered the law of inertia and formulated the equations of uniformly accelerated movement, helped improve the telescope and the microscope, described the orbits of Jupiter's satellites and, apparently, drew a map of the Moon.
    On the other hand, Thomas Harriot drew a better, earlier map of the Moon.
    In conclusion, and given that we know who Galileo is, it is a historical injustice that we don't know who Thomas Harriot is.

    Somehow the conclusion does not seem to follow, does it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Harriot did much more than map the moon and I've always thought it was an injustice that he wasn't better known. Galileo was a giant among giants. He practically invented modern science and certainly helped break the grip of philosophers and priests. But Galileo's being a giant shouldn't take away from the excellence of some of his near contemporaries.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by kandela ( 835710 )
        I would argue that Gilbert [] "practically invented modern science," since he was the earliest influential early practitioner of the scientific method we know of today (ref: The Fellowship - John Gribbin []). Not that Galileo doesn't deserve credit, he was one of the earliest practitioners of the method, popularised it a great deal and had many successes.
    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:05PM (#26454321) Homepage
      No, the point the article makes is that in addition to everything else he did, Galileo also gets points for mapping the moon, while Harriot - who did it early and better - gets none. They figure it's an accomplishment worth noting. (The comment about Harriot being "known better" isn't in reference to Galileo, but in reference to his actual current status.)
    • Ever eaten a potato? (Score:5, Informative)

      by alcmaeon ( 684971 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:19PM (#26455621)
      Then, unless you are an American Indian, you can probably thank Thomas Harriot.

      Let's see, Galileo worked out some obscure mathematical equations, worked on optics, but didn't invent bifocals, and, apparently, drew a rough map of the Moon. Everyone has heard of him.

      On the other hand, Thomas Harriot introduced a plant to Europeans that fed millions or people cheaply and has become the staple food for much of the planet's population. No one knows who he is.

      In conclusion, we are to gather that Galileo's contributions were more important and history is just.

      • On the other hand, Thomas Harriot introduced a plant to Europeans that fed millions or people cheaply and has become the staple food for much of the planet's population.

        The potato was introduced into Europe in 1536 - Harriot was born in 1560. You do the math. Even if Harriot had introduced the potato, which would be curious because his only visits to North America were a hemisphere away from potato cultivation areas, it still languished as human food until the work of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier [] in the la

  • The renaissance took a while to reach England, so it's not a surprise that such endeavors weren't as highly valued and recognized.

  • The reason why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Lobo ( 994537 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:26PM (#26453685)
    The reason why Galileo is more known is because he not only observed the moon and draw some maps, but because he:

    * Discovered the phases of Venus

    * Discovered the rings of Saturn

    * Discovered sunspots

    * Observed and described the Milky way

    * Confirmed in details the heliocentric model

    * Discovered the satellites of Jupiter, thus confirming the the Earth was nothing "especial" but only one planet like any other

    * And MUCH more...

    What makes Galileo a giant was not only the quality of his observations but the enormous quantity as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not to mention the fact that he was attacked and imprisoned by the church for simply stating the TRUTH. He was not only a great scientist, he was also a great role model for every other scientist who has had to fight off the wackjob creationists and the anti-environmentalist moonbats.

      • Does his map provided the location for the moonbats? If so we should nuke their caves.
        • by M-RES ( 653754 )
          Yes it does. He shows the best vantage point on the moon to see the greatest collection of moonbats. Simply stand and look up towards Earth and you'll see them all. They're called Homo Sapiens - each and every one of them is a complete moonbat!
      • First of all, the universe does not revolve around the Sun any more than in revolves around the Earth. So, Galileo was not "simply stating the TRUTH" (as if there were such a thing). Secondly, his troubles came from asserting a state of things as TRUTH without enough scientific or religious proof. There were plenty of ways he could have stated his case without making an ass of himself, but he chose the pompous ass route. Bertolt Brecht's Galileo is not the historical one, any more than Washington Irving's C
        • by tftp ( 111690 )

          First of all, the universe does not revolve around the Sun any more than in revolves around the Earth. So, Galileo was not "simply stating the TRUTH"

          Galileo said nothing about the universe; we still do not quite know what it is, let alone what it rotates around, and in what dimensions. Galileo supported the idea that Earth rotates around the Sun, and that is amazingly close to the truth.

        • To expand on your comment, it wasn't just Galileo's pro-Copernican views which got him in trouble []:

          Galileo lay down the chief elements of his mechanics in Dialog on the Two Chief Systems of the World (1632), which was supposed to be an objective debate between the Copernican and Ptolemaic system. Unfortunately, Galileo put the Pope's favorite argument in the mouth of one of the characters, then proceeded to ridicule it. Galileo suddenly lost favor with the church, and was forced to recant his Copernican views and put under house arrest.

          I'm not defending the church, but unless you're fireproof it's probably never a good idea to ridicule an authority that can easily have you killed for some phoney-baloney religious reason.

          • by M-RES ( 653754 )

            I'm not defending the church, but unless you're fireproof it's probably never a good idea to ridicule an authority that can easily have you killed for some phoney-baloney religious reason.

            Really? So, then my public chants of "Wetsboro Baptist Church Armed Extremist Military Wing are a bunch of pussies!" isn't such a good idea is it? mwuhaha

      • Re:The reason why (Score:4, Interesting)

        by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:17PM (#26455589) Homepage
        Really, Galileo got in trouble with the Church not because they were "wackjob creationists" but rather because of a) violating certain (obsolete) teaching standards at his university - a small tragedy, but you probably would be skeptical if you were the dean and one of your physics profs started going on about the electric universe or cold fusion too - and more importantly b) he wrote a book which poked fun at important people who were wrong and called them stupid by proxy, thereby insulting the honor of important political figures (i.e. the Pope, who really should have been a step or two above typical 17th-century Italian politics but apparently wasn't).

        I think there's more of a Science-and-Politics lesson here than a Science-and-Religion one. Of course, neither the anti-religious lobbies nor the Protestant lobby really figure they have much to gain by going into detail and making distinctions beyond calling "Galileo!" (galileo, figaro) whenever it's convenient. People might actually learn something about history if they did that, or even Society. We wouldn't want that to happen, would we now?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Galileo was finally brought in after he put some of the pope's statements into Simplicio's mouth (making the pope look foolish by proxy). Whether he meant to do that or not is the subject of speculation. However, that's not why Galileo was dragged in. He was dragged in because the Inquisition had it out for him. They had been keeping a file on him for quite a while and even during his trial, they violated their own rules and fabricated records to get him. This doesn't make Galileo's behavior smarter or

          • I wouldn't have said Galileo deserved what happened to him through the inquisition, but in a certain sense he did back them into a corner and go out of his way to push the issue in an inflammatory matter. If Galileo had been able to prove the heliocentric model, it might have been different. But, as you probably know, he couldn't prove it (and, worse, came up with a transparently desperate fake-proof in his theory of the tides.) In the end, it's hard to see where else the church could have gone without l

            • See, that's what I'm disagreeing with. The Church did have a very definite choice. Galileo was trying to give them an out and help them save face before it become overwelmingly obvious that they were very loudly pushing an erroneous view.

              And for the record, as I recall, his tides argument, while false, wasn't obviously so at that time. And there was good reason to believe that the heliocentric model was correct in the form of Kepler's fits to Tycho's data. (Galileo was in correspondence with Kepler, aft

              • Hmmm ... I can't say I agree with you. For anyone with a modicum of common sense it would have been immediately obvious that the tides theory was incorrect. First off, there was the problem that the theory didn't actually predict the observed tides (it predicted exactly one tide per day, at exactly noon every day -- obviously something that anyone living by the sea could see was wrong). But more importantly than that, it was bad physics, and Galileo had just pioneered the modern study of moving bodies.

                • How, exactly, is doing what the Pope told him to do snubbing the Pope?

                  You seem to have a deep-seated animosity towards Galileo that I feel is causing you to ignore contrary evidence that he *wasn't* being a dick as much as simply impolitic and too bold. But I suppose you have your view and I have mine, so there's no point in continuing this. We can't even agree on facts.

                  • How is it snubbing the Pope? In the Dialogue there are three characters, Salviati (the heliocentric pusher), Sagredo (the neutral who is swayed by Salviati's arguments), and Simplicio (the steadfast dunce who can't get past Ptolemy and who is essentially a narrow-minded fool). Throughout the dialogue, we have Salviati arguing strongly for the heliocentric system, Sagredo jumping on the bandwagon, and Simplicio getting confused, reluctantly agreeing, or not wanting to argue further. So we go through four

    • Re:The reason why (Score:5, Informative)

      by robkill ( 259732 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:16PM (#26454501)

      Actually, Harriot also discovered sunspots prior to Galileo, and discovered Snell's law prior to Snell. He also was among the first to hypothesize the optimum lattice packing of spheres was the traditional hexagonal-based packing. (The book "Kepler's Conjecture" is a great read on this.) He simply didn't publish any of his work. THAT is why he is unknown. []

      • He simply didn't publish any of his work.

        Oh come on! That's like me saying "Well, if you don't know... I ain't going to tell you!"

        Better yet, that's lke me saying "I know a lot more than you, but I ain't going to tell you what I know!"

      • by gknoy ( 899301 )

        If he never published his findings, what posible contributory value do they have to the progress of science?

        That's a bit of an extreme expression, since Copernicus only published posthumously (and I forget if it was with his permission ;))... but still. Why should he get respect for discovering awesome stuff, and then not sharing the knowledge? In the world of science, isn't that equivalent to being useless?

    • That, and Galileo published. That's vitally important. In science, you must share your results if you want any credit. If you don't share your great data or your brilliant theory, you're not really doing science, you're engaging in a hobby. Which isn't to say that Harriot didn't do great work, but let's not diminish Galileo's accomplishments. He not only did the work, he stuck his neck out and announced it. (And, in his case, he paid for it.)

    • By the way, Galileo wasn't "Florentine": he was born in Pisa, not in Florence!
    • I am not so sure that Galileo discovered the rings of Saturn. From what I understand, he got frustrated with ever-changing Saturn and vowed to never look at it again. It was only after his death did it become apparent that what had frustrated Galileo were the rings of Saturn, seen from varying angles.

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
      Hmmm.. Obviously Galileo > Harriot. Therefore, let's continue to completely ignore that Harriot guy and his groundbreaking work.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thomas Harriot did draw the moon using a telescope a few months before Galileo.

    This is his interpretation of what he saw through his telescope:

    Galileo's interpretation:

    " But Harriot was first... and his map of the Moon is better than Galileo's"

    Umm. Galileo was an artist as well as a scientist and very good at Chiaroscuro artwork. He could visualize what he was

    • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )

      First and better don't have to refer to the same drawing.

      He drew a map first.
      He drew a map better.
      His first map was not better, but his later map was.
      The structure of the statement in the summary doesn't exclude either interpretation.

  • Galileo mapped the Moon as a consequence of using his telescope.

    Harriot mapped the Moon as a consequence of having good eyesight and patience.

    Using Galileo's method, anyone could repeat the process, especially with a better telescope, and get the same or better results. Using Harriot's method, anyone could repeat the experiment, probably producing worse results (God knows, I would) because their eyesight was normal or worse, while his was probably excellent, and they didn't have as long to waste on the pro

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
      Moron, RTFA, it states that Harriot "beat Galileo to become the first man to view the Moon through a telescope".
  • Took me about a minute to realize they were writing about the old italian guy.

    My thinking was interrupted by the space probe of the same name that used a gravitational assist off the earth, and on the way took a couple cool pictures to tune up the cameras. []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:46PM (#26455015)

    We should all give Pink Floyd credit for fully exploring the moon's dark side. If I recall correctly they did it with lasers and a lot of funny smelling smoke.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a matter of fact, it's all dark.

  • And we all know Galileo's only achievement was mapping the moon. It's not like he did anything else to cement his place in history.

  • William Gilbert drew the oldest known map of the Moon in 1600. His map was based on naked eye observations.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    First the Colossus, then RSA, and now the Moon!

    25 years down the road they're going to release documents telling us that they left a teapot on mars back in the 50's.

  • > after all, we all know Galileo. But Harriot was first...

    Umm, call me wacky, but I'm pretty sure Galileo is not widely known because he drew maps of the moon. Frankly, until today, I was not even aware that he _did_ that (although it's not at all surprising, given how obvious a thing the moon is to look at once you've got a telescope set up).

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission