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UCL Festival of Culture: Galileo: what was his crime?

Siobhan Pipa2 June 2016


Portrait of Galileo Galilei, Justus Sustermans

Nearly 400 years ago in April 1633 the Italian astronomer, mathematician and natural philosopher, Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Roman Inquisition.

The main charge against him centred on his support for the Copernican theory, aka the belief that a mobile Earth orbited a stationary sun. The theory was thought to contradict the Bible and Galileo was placed on trial for heresy.

But what was Galileo’s real crime? Was science really defeated by religion, as legend would have it? These were some of the questions raised by Andrew Campbell from UCL Italian in his lecture Galileo: what was his crime?, organised as part of the UCL Festival of Culture.

I’ve always found the Galileo Affair fascinating and it’s often used as the leading example of the supposed battle between science and religion. Florence’s Galileo Museum proudly displays his mummified middle finger pointing towards the heavens – a definitive display of science triumphing over the Catholic Church.

When Galileo is mentioned today it’s often not in recognition of his scientific work but as the poster child for the war between religion and science. However, is it as simple as this – can you separate science and religion from the politics, and personalities, of the day?

To delve a little deeper into the whole affair Andrew provided a short run through of the events which led up to 1633.


Lunch Hour Lecture: On supernovae and serendipity

ycrnf0113 October 2014

Like a white dwarf, autumn 2014’s first Lunch Hour Lecture was dense, full of energy and tightly packed (but in this case, time and not space, I might add).

Psyched for my first Lunch Hour Lecture, I was ready to explore the world of supernovae with a 45-minute guided journey through the stars, namely, ones in the process of exploding very dramatically.

Radiating enthusiasm and demonstrating expertise from start to finish, Dr Steve Fossey (UCL Physics and Astronomy) took a capacity audience on a whistle stop tour of January’s discovery of a Type ia supernova, memorably named SN 2014J, and situated in our neighbourhood galaxy, the sci-fi sounding, Messier 82.

After summarising the rules for supernovae discovery (there are two options: looking, and not looking but accidentally finding), Dr Fossey gave a short overview of history’s accidental supernova discoveries.

One scenario for Type Ia supernovae: a white dwarf accreting matter from a neighbour till it becomes unstable Credit: European Southern Observatory

One scenario for Type Ia supernovae: a white dwarf accreting matter from a neighbour until it becomes unstable
Credit: European Southern Observatory via Oli Usher

Beginning with Tycho Brahe’s find in 1572 – labelled SN 1572 – which rewrote the rules of astronomy, he moved on to Johannes Kepler’s discovery of SN 1604 in, wait for it, 1604 (are you seeing a pattern here?) and finally, and more recently, SN 1987A, found by astronomers in Chile.


Exoplanets, alien atmospheres and life, Jim…but not as we know it!

news editor12 June 2013


Exoplanet by NASAblueshift on Flickr

Artist’s impression of the exoplanet Tau Boötis b from
NASAblueshift on Flickr.

Written by David Robertson, who attended a lecture by Dr Giovanni Tinetti (UCL Physics & Astronomy) at the Cheltenham Science Festival, entitled ‘Exoplanet explorers’.

1992, was the year it hit me! As I entered the brave new world of primary education, I remember being startled with the knowledge that we lived on a ball of rock, travelling some 67,000 miles per hour around a massive burning ball of fire. Naturally, this was a pretty terrifying turn of events!

As the shock subsided, and my terror turned to awe, I was told that the Earth was one of a small group of planets orbiting our local star.

There was more.