Though Galileo is lauded as the first person to peer at the Moon through a telescope and draw its topography, he was actually beaten to the punch by an obscure British mathematician.
Several months before Galileo drew the moon, British professor and researcher Thomas Harriot drew this crude image of the moon as seen through the telescope he'd ordered from The Netherlands in 1608. Over the next several years he drew increasingly more detailed images like the one you see at the top of this post.
Unlike Galileo, Harriot never published any of his images. Oxford historian Allan Chapman, whose article about Harriot will appear next month in the journal Astronomy and Geophysics, believes that Harriot preferred to keep his name out of the spotlight. He was a gentleman scholar, funded by some of the wealthiest men in England.
Nevertheless, his patrons (such as Sir Walter Raleigh) often fell out of favor with the crown and found themselves in prison. Perhaps Harriot saw the problems one could face by speaking out openly in difficult political times and decided to keep his discoveries to himself. Galileo, however, didn't take that path.
According to Space.com:
[Historian] Chapman attributes this to his comfortable position as a "well-maintained philosopher to a great and wealthy nobleman" with a generous salary, said to be "several times the level of the Warden of Wadham College, Oxford." Harriot had comfortable housing and a specially provided observing chamber on top of Sion House, all of which contrasted with Galileo's financial pressures.
Galileo, interestingly, was unable to buy a telescope. So he figured out the optics of it and built his own. He also examined the moon, and then found that the Milky Way was composed of individual stars. Galileo also discovered four moons around Jupiter and spent much time observing and drawing sunspots.
Now, at last, the timid Harriot's contributions to early astronomy are coming to light.
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