Galileo’s fingers go on display

Tourists in Florence can now learn more about the city’s most famous resident at The Museum of the History of Science, which has just reopened as the Galileo Museum.

Galileo (1564-1642) was one of the greatest scientists of the Renaissance. He made significant advances in physics and mathematics and made history when he turned a newfangled gadget called the telescope towards the night sky and discovered that Jupiter has moons and Venus has phases. These observations strengthened his conviction that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe and in fact revolved around the Sun. The Catholic Church felt threatened by this idea and put him on trial for heresy. Galileo spent his final years under house arrest.

The museum preserves the lens from his famous telescope as well as other artifacts from Galileo’s life and times, including some rather macabre ones. When Galileo’s body was being moved to a new tomb in 1737 an admirer cut off three fingers off the right hand (the thumb, index, and middle finger, if you must know), a vertebra, and a tooth. The thumb, middle finger, and tooth went missing for many years but recently turned up at an auction. They’re now back home in Florence and are the most unusual artifacts in the Galileo Museum.

Besides the body parts of a persecuted genius, the museum has an impressive collection of scientific instruments. The displays explain how these instruments helped expand humanity’s knowledge. Science museums are fascinating places, and if you can’t make it to Florence this year, check out these science museums in London and Northern California.

“Galileo Galilei showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope”, fresco by Giuseppe Bertini, 1858.