A hundred years ago who would have guessed that in 1969 men would walk on the moon? Who could have imagined the 340 planets detected in recent years orbiting other stars? Every age has its dreamers and visionaries whose brilliant ideas have changed the way we view the universe. In 1676 Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” We all benefit from the knowledge and discoveries of those who came before us. Ancient peoples regarded the earth as the center of the universe. And who could blame them? As they gazed up at the night sky, they observed the heavenly bodies “revolve” around them. Later thinkers came to question this, but it was Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) who first published a scientific theory of heliocentrism, the idea that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), with the newly invented telescope, made astronomical observations that provided evidence in support of Copernicus’ theory, and Galileo became a vocal proponent of the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. For this he provoked the ire of Pope Clement VIII, and spent his last years under house arrest. Meanwhile, his German contemporary, Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630), demonstrated mathematically that the earth and other planets move, that their speeds vary, and that their orbits are elliptical. His laws of planetary motion supported Galileo’s ideas and laid the groundwork for Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) revolutionized scientific thinking with his concept of gravity, the force of attraction between bodies with mass. His law has since been superseded by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but still provides a good approximation of the effects of gravity. Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) revolutionized the way we think about the universe in so many ways. To him gravity was not just a force between objects but the warping of the fabric of space by the interaction of the mass of objects. He is best known for his theory of relativity and for the concept of mass- energy equivalence, where energy is equivalent to mass times the speed of light squared, or E=mc2. Einstein’s discoveries involved giant intuitive leaps of insight, many of which took years of scientific experiment and improved technology to prove correct. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (1942 - ) has since taken relativity in undreamed of new directions with his work on singularities, black holes and quantum gravity. What unimaginable discoveries are yet to come?
This month the Springfield STARS Club will feature “The Great Cosmology Debate,” a roundtable program in which Stars Club members portray such great thinkers as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein and Hawking, all of whom changed the way we view the universe. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 24th at 7.30pm in the Tolman Auditorium at the Springfield Science Museum at the Quadrangle. Refreshments will be served, and the public is welcome free of charge.
Amanda Jermyn, of Longmeadow, has been a member of the Springfield Stars Club since 2000 and currently serves on the club's board of directors. For more information, visit the Springfield Stars Club Web site at www.reflector.org or call 1(800)336-9054.
Copyright © Amanda Jermyn