A Prized Galileo Script Has Turned Out To Be A Fake

As with not believing everything you read on the internet, a fair degree of mistrust appears to be required when dealing with documents from the 17th century. A study into what was assumed to be a valuable document from the University of Michigan showed that it was, in fact, a forgery.

For over a century, the University of Michigan had “one of the jewels” of its library: a piece of paper. It is thought to have been written in 1609 and 1610 by astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei. It includes a letter signed by the scientist explaining a new telescope and illustrations of Jupiter’s moons. According to the university, it was the “first observational data that showed objects orbiting a body other than Earth.”

Galileo did use a new telescope in 1610 to determine that moons orbit Jupiter, but he did not write the document, the university announced last week after an investigation. Instead, the document was most likely created in the twentieth century by a man named Tobia Nicotra.

“It was pretty gut-wrenching when we first learned our Galileo was not actually a Galileo,” Donna L. Hayward, the interim dean of Michigan’s libraries, tells the New York Times’ Michael Blanding.

According to the Times, the first doubts were raised when Nick Wilding, a Georgia State University history and Galileo specialist, examined an image of the Michigan text. “It just kind of jumps out as weird,” he says of the strange handwriting, word choice, and ink colour.

Wilding told The New York Times, “As soon as I heard the word ‘Nicotra,’ I had the little ‘Spidey sense.'” He contacted Curator Pablo Alvarez, who told the Times that reading Wilding’s name on the email gave him a “sinking feeling” given his track record of detecting fake documents.

Wilding teaches a summer forgery course at the University of West Virginia’s Rare Book School and properly discovered a forgery of Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius in 2012. He also found a counterfeit Galileo letter by Tobia Nicotra in New York’s Morgan Library. While researching his next book, he is looking for other Galileo forgeries.

The original letter is now kept at the Archivio Di Stato Di Venezia in Venice, while Galileo’s notes on Jupiter’s moons are kept at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Di Firenze in Florence.

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