Date: November 27, 2009

Title: Channeling Galileo


Podcaster: Mark Thompson

Organization: Galileo 1610:

Description: What is it like to be Galileo? Mark Thompson shares some personal reflections of his experiences impersonating the famous Italian astronomer and raconteur Galileo Gallilei for over a decade, and especially during the International Year of Astronomy.

Bio: Mark Thompson, a professional cantor and amateur astronomer, has appeared as Galileo on radio, at community theatres and libraries, public schools, colleges and universities throughout the country. He has performed as Galileo for civic organizations, astronomy association conventions, marketing and outreach programs as well as private events and parties since 1996.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Sean Stearns in appreciation of the creative spirit of exploration.


“Channeling” Galileo

As IYA2009 draws to a close I wanted to share some personal reflections about my tour as “Galileo Galilei “ during the past year. While I have performed as the famous Italian astronomer and raconteur for over a decade, the International Year of Astronomy has provided a unique opportunity to update and upgrade my one- man show with new songs, new comedy and a new beard! In honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s discoveries I decided to shed my old gray beard, and exchange it for a circa- 1610 reddish-brown one—after all, Galileo was a youthful 45 years old when he built his first telescope, long before he had his troubles with the Inquisition as a much older man.

My current incarnation as Galileo actually began two years ago when I was contacted by my friend, Scott Roberts—then VP at Meade Instruments about the possibility of doing some multi-media presentations as Galileo for the company. Unfortunately, Scott left Meade to pursue other business opportunities and the idea was scrapped by Meade executives, so I was left to fend for myself.

As planning got underway for IYA2009 I created a website, entitled Galileo 1610 and decided to attend the AAS Convention in St. Louis and perform some excerpts of my show , Galileo 1610. I met some wonderful people there who gave me much encouragement, including Dava Sobel, author of the wildly popular book, Galileo’s Daughter, who after attending one of my presentations, gave me an enthusiastic endorsement– and I was on my way.

As fortune would have it, the kickoff of IYA2009 opened in the U.S. in my hometown Long Beach, California. Galileo made his debut at the welcoming reception, posing for photo opportunities and promoting Sierra Nevada’s special brew- Galileo’s Ale.

In March, Galileo traveled to SUNY Oneonta in New York to perform for university students and the community- at- large in a beautiful theatre on campus.

The 1st annual San Diego Science Festival was the next stop for Galileo. Thousands of school-age kids and their parents showed up at Balboa Park the first weekend in April. In addition to two performances at a local library and on an outdoor stage, Galileo revealed sunspots for the first time to hundreds of astronomy enthusiasts who cued up all day for a look through his solar telescope.

The summer of 1609 was the most memorable period in Galileo’s life. It was then that he first learned of the invention of a Dutch spyglass which would change the course of his life, not to mention the course of history. I decided at this time to begin tracing Galileo’s footsteps as if it were exactly 400 years ago. The events in Galileo’s life would unfold contemporaneously in real time. After Galileo rejuvenated himself at Rancho LaPuerta resort spa in Mexico with star parties and an engaging interactive performance, off he went to Chicago, Illinois.

Exactly 400 years ago to the day that Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the Venetian Senate from the bell tower at St Mark’s Square in Venice, Galileo performed at the Eugene Cernan Earth and Space Center to report on these new developments, and on October 22 when the moon was in the exact phase that prompted Galileo to make his first drawings depicting lunar craters that would turn the Aristotelian idea of an unblemished orb on its head—Galileo performed for the community of Bowling Green, Kentucky in conjunction with the Barren River Imaginative Museum of Science.

It’s been an exciting year for Galileo—and next year is going to be even better! Of course, all of this has had a personal effect on me as an amateur astronomer as well. By late November in 1609, Galileo had improved his telescope to a 20- power instrument and was not only investigating the topography of the moon but was beginning to chart the heavens, noting a “congery of stars” comprising the Milky Way, the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula and the Beehive Cluster. Living in light-polluted skies that Galileo never had to contend with, I am discovering the wonders of a hydrogen-alpha filter in my astro-imaging that reveals the intricate delicacies of emission nebulae that not even Galileo could have imagined. It’s a great time to be an amateur astronomer. I wonder what Galileo would have thought about water on the moon!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.