Catholic News Service reports that this Sunday a Mass marking Galileo’s birthday was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, presided over by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi. If I can find a translated copy of the homily online, I’ll link to it.

This year was selected as the International Year of Astronomy because it is the 400th anniversary of the use of a telescope by Galileo. I will be checking throughout this week to see what other celebrations throughout the world commemorated his 445th birthday.

Galileo’s birthday was overshadowed by the 200th birthday of another famous scientist, Charles Darwin whose birthday was February 12. As an astronomy student, I am a bit miffed that Galileo’s birthday has been somewhat forgotten in light of this other day, but I suppose that it’s the result of people liking round numbers. My own university, MSU was involved with celebrations of Darwin’s birthday by joining in an international birthday wish on Youtube. You might notice a Catholic connection in this video as well; it includes Father George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory.

Interestingly, the basilica has functioned as a bit of an observatory itself. It is one of several large churches to have meridian lines which track the movement of the sun throughout the year. The image above of the line at St.Mary of the Angels and Martyrs shows how such a line works (image credit: wikibob). As solar noon (which need not be at 12:00 PM) approaches, the image of the sun approaches the line. Because the sun reaches different heights in the sky at different times of the year, the sun will cross a different portion of the line at different times of the year. In this way, the line functions as a sort of calender, or in this case, a means of testing the accuracy of the calender. Placement of pinholes at locations in the church also allowed the observation of specific stars for the purpose of recording stellar transits. What an appropriate location for a Mass celebrated in memory of Galileo.

Keep your eyes open for more IYA news as I finally get back to blogging.

Image Credit:Wikipedia