Galileo Day Campaign: 29 February 2012

The day to celebrate the Earth and Science

Leap day is the single day we all think about our place in the universe, and how we know that place; it honors the earth we live on and our knowledge of the science of nature.

This is why we propose to baptize the 29th of February 2012 “Galileo Day”: a day of wonder about the beauty of the universe around us. A day to recognize the benefits of science and of the scientific method. Finally, a day to honor the individuals who stand up for what they know is true. As Galileo Day or Earth Moves (Us) Day, Leap Day could eventually become a public holiday.

Now that the last leap day has sped us by, it is the right moment to launch this campaign as it is important to start early. There is still time to weigh the pros and cons of such a day without the need to rush. A day with a message Leap day is the single day where we all think about the workings of the world in the wider universe. Every person using the Western calendar will pause at least once during this day and contemplate the orbit of earth around the sun. An orbit that takes a year, that cannot be exactly divided in a number of full earth days. It is the day every person is just a bit proud that He Understands His Position on a Moving Object in Heliocentric Space, contrary to flat-earthers or geo-centrists, who share, in our mind, a place next to Neanderthals and other extinct species.

Predicting seasons is a practical skill

In the tropical hunter-gatherer societies, seasons came and went, and many of these societies used the lunar year rather than the solar year. It was rather the approximate onset of the seasons than the possibility to predict them with precision that counted. However, agricultural societies or seafaring communities, were very keen on predicting when they could expect the seasons to come. The agricultural societies tended to follow a calendar that follows the movements of the sun, and the skill of predicting the seasons was held in high esteem. Priests and scientists are the custodians of this lore, and we are still in awe of the skills of the Egyptians, Mayans, and Chinese in calculating the calendar and the orbit of the stars.

It is difficult for 21st century city dwellers to grasp the urgency of the precision and difficulty to calculate the calendar up to the accuracy of the need for a leap day. Over the lifetime of a person of 60 years, leap days make a difference of maximum 15 days, while the onset of spring or the rainy season varies by more than 10 days from year to year. In regions with a limited growing season for agriculture, 15 days can mean the difference between life and death. Only through indirect astronomical observations is it possible to define the length of the year precisely. The calculation of the calendar was a practical science for early agricultural societies. However, with the accumulation of scientific knowledge, it became apparent that the reality, as perceived by the direct senses or passed down the generations, did not correspond with the newly acquired powers of observation.

The Greek seafarers and travelers already knew that the earth was not flat, but round (spherical). Near the end of the middle ages, improved observations led Copernicus to propose a new world order, with the Sun in the middle, and the Earth in orbit. As this information initially only travelled in a small circle of intellectuals, this view did not stir much opposition.

E pur si muove! And yet it moves!

This changed when the Renaissance broadened the impact of ideas: hunger for knowledge and science was boosting progress all over Europe and this knowledge was spread more widely. One of the better known proponents of the Renaissance is Galileo Galilei. Galileo was a devout Catholic all through his life. He was a typical renaissance man and well-rounded scientist: a philosopher, physicist, astronomer, and above all, the one considered as the father of the scientific method. He worked from a hypothesis, he tried to test his hypothesis through rigorous experiments, and was ready to accept the results of his experiments instead of his own cherished ideas.

Galileo improved the telescope, invented in the Netherlands, and soon became one of the leading astronomers of his time, able to disprove some long held views of his contemporary scientists. When this public figure gave his full support to the findings of Copernicus, placing the sun in the center and the earth in orbit, his enemies, who had suffered defeat arguing against him on other scientific issues, started a campaign against him. According to some of the clerics, heliocentrism, putting the sun in the center of the universe, was contradictory to the Bible and thus heresy. Galileo took Augustine’s position on the Bible: not everything was to be taken literally, even more so when the passages were meant to be poetic or symbolic. This campaign, like a modern press-smear campaign against a public figure, and the subsequent trial, forced Galileo to recant his position on an object orbiting around the sun. We are talking about the inquisition here, and he was probably glad to make it alive. According to popular legend, Galileo muttered after recanting his theory: and yet it moves…. Recognition of the beauty of the world and the benefits of science Indeed, it still moves us, the earth, spinning around its axis, spinning around the sun and around the center of the Milky Way. Galileo died in 1642 and in 1758 the Church authorized the full publication of Galileo’s work. The acceptance of the Copernican world view was postponed, but as it was grounded in reality, observation and scientific method, it prevailed. This is not the story of faith against science, it is the story of jealous competitors bringing down a brilliant man through a public campaign based on prejudice. And ultimately, the scientific method prevailed, but at a huge personal cost for the involved individual. While Galileo was banned from public life, he wrote what is now considered to be one of the main works of physics ever, and the basis of the work by Newton and others. He is known as the father of modern science, while his enemies can be said to be the at the origins of the tabloid method of justice.

Leap day, Galileo day, a day to celebrate the Earth and Science

29 February 2012: Galileo / Earth moves day. We would like to propose to baptize the 29th of February “Galileo Day”: a day of wonder about the beauty of the universe around us. A day of recognition of the benefits of science and of the scientific method. Finally, a day to honor the individuals who stand up for what they know is true.

In the schools, it would be good to highlight on this day the history of the human knowledge, and the facts on our position in the universe. Scientific institutions should certainly take a day off, and governments should allow their personnel to attend to Galileo day celebrations. Post Scriptum:

Definition of Galileo Day

The 29th of February. A day of wonder about the beauty of the universe around us. A day of recognition of the benefits of science and of the scientific method. Finally, a day to honor the individuals who stand up for what they know is true.

Call it a day

Leap Day would be a logical name, as it is already in use. However, does it speak sufficiently to the imagination? Galileo Day seems rich with images and meaning (like Columbus Day). However, Galileo is very much part of the Western heritage, and the meaning of this name might be lost beyond the people educated in the fine print of European history. Earth Moves Day is nice, but could be confused with Earth Day, held on the spring equinox or the 22nd of April. Another option would be to allude to the centripetal force that holds us in place, and go for Rodaytion.

For now, as one of the editors has just finished a divine pasta dinner accompanied by a superb Italian wine, Galileo Day is the favorite. However, we are open to support another name, depending on the quality of the associated food and drinks.

2 Responses to “Galileo Day Campaign: 29 February 2012”

  1. Still 2.5 more years to go

  2. [...] Proposal to rename Leap Year Day to Galileo Day in 2012 [...]

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