Celestial Revelations Necessitate Darkness: GoodReads Review of Galileo’s “The Starry Messenger”

Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1610 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina) Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo by Stillman Drake

Science and Religion are two sides of the same coin. Neither of them are absolute and both are a means to make sense of the world. What’s most extraordinary about Galileo’s discoveries is how his celestial revelations necessitate Darkness. Our first modern scientist had to wait for the sun to descend deep into night before he could track the moon as she waxed and waned. And, without the blinding cloak of Religion, Galileo’s ideas wouldn’t have been so fantastic, so revolutionary. Darkness wrought his enlightenment, and in the Starry Messenger we discover nothing is ever as it seems: “In this way, one may learn that with all the certainty of sense evidence that the moon is not robed in a smooth and polished surface but is in fact rough and uneven, covered everywhere, just like the earth’s surface, with huge prominences, deep valleys, and chasms.” Our previous notions are not to be trusted, nor what we hear or see. Truth is proven only through methodical study. Not just discovery itself but the method of discovery advances with Galileo’s nightly research.

Both scientist and poet, he describes our moon in such vivid and beautiful detail:

At conjunction the moon occupies a position between the sun and the earth; it is then illuminated by the sun’s rays on the side which is turned away from the earth. The other hemisphere, which faces the earth, is covered with darkness; hence the moon does not illuminate the surface of the earth at all. Next, departing gradually from the sun, the moon comes to be lighted partly upon the side it turns toward us, and its whitish horns, still very thin, illuminate the earth with a faint light…Soon the splendor on the moon extends into a semi-circle, and our nights grow brighter; at length the entire visible face of the moon is irradiated by the sun’s resplendent rays, and at full moon the whole surface of the earth shines in a flood of moonlight. Now the moon, waning, sends us her beams more weakly, and the earth is less strongly lighted; at length the moon returns to conjunction with the sun; and the black night covers the earth.

The moon’s sway over Life on this blue orb of ours seems so logically obvious. Our seas answer to her in their tidal movement. The female cycle is determined by her phases. And, countless flora and fauna, vespertines, as they’re called, depend not on the power of the sun but on the “resplendent rays” of our lunar satellite. When these points were raised in class, several of the students were rattled at the idea that our Moon makes Life possible. “Disturbing,” they argued, many of them young women. “Doesn’t seem right or sound correct,” they continued to protest.

How can it be so easy for us to accept that the Sun gives life, yet impossible to concede that the Moon is just as essential? The only reasonable explanation is a deep-seated and latent mistrust of Feminine Power, which still permeates our young minds’ psyche, even in the twenty-first century.

A defiant declaration, a nightly journal, a scientific archive, with a flash of poetry, a series of rudimentary sketches that angered the Church and threatened a life, Galileo’s work shadows us everyday. His discoveries are in the back of the mind, truths that are uncovered only in the darkest and deadest of night, when the lights from afar shine brightest.

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