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Did an Englishman beat Galileo to the moon?

One of Harriot’s maps (Courtesy: Lord Egremont)

By Hamish Johnston

Yes, at least according to the BBC, which is running a news story about Thomas Harriot, who apparently used a telescope to draw maps of the moon about four months before Galileo famously turned his own telescope skywards — making Harriot the father of modern astronomy, not Galileo.

The proof will soon be on display at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, where the documents are stored.

Oxford University science historian Allan Chapman told the BBC “Thomas Harriot was not only the first person ever to draw an astronomical body with a telescope on 26 July 1609, he rapidly developed to become an absolutely superb lunar cartographer”.

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told the BBC, “Harriot was first… and his map of the moon is better than Galileo’s.”

Harriot was a wealthy businessman who apparently did not feel the need to publicize his findings.

The good news for organizers of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 — which is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first time a telescope was used in astronomy — is that Harriot also got started in 1609, so they still have the right year!

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One comment to Did an Englishman beat Galileo to the moon?

  1. A. Fabricio Albuquerque

    “…making Harriot the father of modern astronomy, not Galileo.”
    Wow, does that mean that until now astronomers were actually orphans?
    This is what I call overselling an interesting finding: someone claims that a person about whom nobody has ever heard until now created an entire field, even though being unable to influence anybody (otherwise this would be previously known).
    What if in the future someone finds that yet another anonymous did the same on 25 July 1609? I think Galileo deserves his title as “father of astronomy” not because he was the first to look through a “tube” (or for his accurate drawings), but instead because he influenced others to do the same.


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