January 28, 2010 (REVISED January 29, 2010) Galileo's 1610 "Starry Messenger" Will Be on Display at NASA Scientist Michelle Thaller's Lecture on Galileo and the Telescope

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Science, Technology and Business Division (202) 707-5664 | NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (301) 614-6627

In 1609, Galileo constructed the first powerful telescope and started observing the heavens, which led to many monumental discoveries. He published his initial findings on the moon and the stars in 1610 in a brief treatise titled “Sidereus Nuncius” (“Starry Messenger”). An original printing of this publication is held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, NASA scientist Michelle Thaller will discuss “Galileo: 400 Years of the Telescope,” and Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius” will be on display briefly following the lecture. Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, will be present to talk about the Galileo work.

The lecture will start at 11:30 a.m. in Dining Room A on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are needed.

The illustrated lecture, the first in a series of programs in 2010, is presented through a partnership between the Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Thaller, who is assistant director of Science for Communications at Goddard, will discuss the story of Galileo Galilei’s discoveries with the telescope and the implications of those findings for him and for science thereafter. Galileo had been a champion of the Copernican hypothesis that the Earth was not the center of the universe, a belief that was controversial at the time. He was warned to abandon his support, but he defended his views in his famous work “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” (1632). He was tried by the Roman Inquisition, forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

According to Thaller, Galileo’s story is more complicated than the commonly accepted version and much more interesting. “What transpired was a classic tale of personality conflicts, politics, power and truth that had its roots in ancient Greece as well as the Crusades,” Thaller said. “As we mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s observations, I’ll take a look at the real Galileo, from his most arrogant and controversy-seeking actions to his moments of astonishing brilliance.”

Thaller obtained a doctorate in observational astrophysics through Georgia State University, specializing in the life and death of massive stars. She has spent time in Australia and South America working on the world’s foremost telescopes, and has also been an observer with the Hubble Space Telescope, the ROSAT X-Ray Satellite and the International Ultraviolet Explorer Satellite. She spent more than 10 years at the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena as the manager of the Spitzer Space Telescope’s outreach program.

The Library of Congress maintains one of the largest and most diverse collections of scientific and technical information in the world. The Science, Technology and Business Division provides reference and bibliographic services and develops the general collections of the Library in all areas of science, technology, business and economics. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/.


PR 10-021
ISSN 0731-3527