Last month, Society Chairperson, Mr Paul Neaves visited the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory, In Italy. It is located just outside the centre of Florence, on the same hill where Galileo Galilei spent, in forced exile, the last 11 years of his life.
In 1610, Galileo published his ‘Starry Messenger’, describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope, namely the phases of Venus and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. He went on to propose a theory of the tides in 1616, and of comets in 1619. He argued that the tides were evidence for the motion of the Earth, and promoted the heliocentric theory of Copernicus.
Following mounting controversy over theology, astronomy and philosophy, the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo in 1633 and found him “gravely suspect of heresy”, sentencing him to indefinite imprisonment. This was subsequently commuted to house arrest, under which he remained for the rest of his life. Some years later in 1638, a young English poet named John Milton visited Galileo. Years later, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ mentions the names of many angels, but only one human; the man named Galileo.
Its inauguration in 1872 was meant also as a Memorial to celebrate this great tradition. Particular emphasis is given to theoretical and observational studies related to:
Star formation and the study of the interstellar medium.
Active Galactic Nuclei and the Early Evolution of Galaxies.
High Energy and Particle Astrophysics.
Furthermore, the Observatory hosts a group of researchers and technicians dealing with the construction of the Large Binocular Telescope, with the development of high angular resolution techniques (adaptive optics, interferometry), and with near infrared instrumentation (cameras and spectrometers like Nics, Amber, and Giano). Other groups are involved with radio astronomical and solar technological projects.
The hill of Arcetri is also the site of the Astronomy Department of the University of Florence, and of a section of the Institute of Radio Astronomy of the National Council of Research. Since 2001 the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory is part of the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), following a general re-organization of the Italian astronomical research.