1. IT’S THE MAGNIFICATION THAT CHANGED history.
2. When Galileo Galilei first-lighted* his telescope more than four hundred years ago, he didn’t know that simple act would begin a new era for humanity. He certainly didn’t know that by deducing that Earth was not the center of the Universe, and daring to proclaim the evidence of his senses and reasoning, he would be convicted by the Inquisition. So it goes, and sometimes tragically.
3. 32x isn’t exactly high-powered observing. But with it, one can see the wrinkles and pocks on the Moon’s ancient face; the nightly dance of Jupiter’s moons; a visual whisper of distant Saturn’s relatively razor-thin rings. Some say Galileo was not the first to make these observations. And he is not by any means the last. But he did suffer the most famous consequences.
4. Sir Isaac Newton once said that if he could see farther than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Looking through their eyes, though, is quite the unanticipated thrill. You can reproduce Galileo’s epic discovery with a modest home telescope: say a simple 70-millimeter (2.8-inches wide) refractor, admittedly twice the diameter of G’s.
5. I like to think that planetary life is inevitable — after all, it evolved here, so why not on the other countless worlds with which we share the known cosmos? If that’s so, there must also be other astronomers using common tools and some analog of the scientific method to understand what they see; the Universe observing itself, so to speak. Let’s hope there aren’t any other Inquisitions scuttling around out there as well.
* The official initial look through any astronomical telescope is known as “first light.” (I’m not sure why.) Mine was the rings of Saturn, courtesy of the simple 70mm refractor I received for my bar mitzvah.