It is a simple device really.
Sitting in my Den,
It has few parts, certainly only a dozen major components.
Anyone can use it.
Which is probably what makes it such a dangerous object.
Simple and dangerous.
But it changed the world.
The revolution it began a little over 400 years ago is still working itself out, perhaps never to be concluded, a never ending cycle of change in ideas and beliefs, destroyed or created in its gaze.
It was the night of the 7th January 1610 that changed humanity forever and it was all down to the telescope.
It was a period of turmoil and change across Europe, religious upheaval and political turbulence were bringing conflict to most nations, just 8 years later the longest war in modern European history would begin and in England a future regicide was approaching his 11th Birthday.
Like all revolutions this one had its literature.
This literature is part of the very etymology of the word revolutionary.
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of Celestial Bodies) published by Nicolaus Copernicus was an inflamatory document that proposed that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe. It is perhaps as well that the book was published as he lay dying, for while the response was slow, eventually the Church did notice and then resorted to censorship. But literature and theory is one thing and in 1543 the evidence and proof were unavailble and unattainable.
Then in the first decade of the 1600s somebody invented the telescope.
It may have been a German-Dutch lens maker called Hans Lippershey, he certainly gets the first honarary mention and it was a description of his instrument that led a Tuscan scientist to build his instruments.
Literature and device came together in one man and on the 7th January 1610 he started the revolution.
He turned his telescope on Jupiter and saw three tiny stars near-by.
Of course you and I know exactly what he was looking at. But that night Galileo was the first person to see them and as he watched over the next few nights the idea that these were stars was replaced by the knowledge that Jupiter was orbited by moons.
The Earth was not at the centre of everything.
Within months Galileo also had observed the phases of Venus, impossible to explain in the aristotilean model but predicted by Copernicus. Galileo published his findings in Sidereus Nuncius – Starry Messenger, but all too soon Galileo was censored by the Church, living his life in perpetual house arrest.
All the while Europe descended into chaos and ruin. Religious conflict, civil wars and dynastic feuds boiled over. While canons roared and pike and musket clashed, the telescope was waging a silent war on ignorance and superstition.
And when the dust settled the telescope and its observations emerged and brought us into the sunlight of enlightenment.
“the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” Psalm 96:10
“Eppur si muove“ Galileo (possibly…)