Person: Mayr, Simon
Simon Mayr was a German astronomer who may have observed Jupiter's moons before Galileo.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- However, Simon was sent in 1586 to Margrave's academy in Heilsbronn, a school for boys who came from poor families yet showed marked academic promise.
- In 1596 a comet was seen and Mayr made observations which he incorporated in a publication.
- Brahe died in October of that year, but Mayr had already left since we know he passed through Moravia on 25 September on his way to Vienna and then further south.
- Mayr was admitted to the Association of German Students of Arts at the University of Padua on 18 December 1601, donating 6 Venetian lire to the association (he donated 10 lire in each of the following four years).
- Mayr seems to have been a militant Lutheran and this may have contributed to his actions when in a position of authority in the association.
- Mayr and Capra observed a nova which was visible in 1604 and Mayr helped Capra write a book on the nova under Capra's name.
- For this Capra was expelled from the university but Mayr, who had left Italy by this time, was thought to be implicated in the fraud.
- Galileo certainly thought so, but he chose not to name Mayr explicitely but described him as his "old adversary", and much worse as a "poisonous reptile" and an "enemy of all mankind".
- 1609 became a crucial year for Mayr and would lead to a serious dispute with Galileo where this time he named him and wrote a strong condemnation of him which we quote from below.
- Having heard that a telescope was being sold at the Frankfurt Fair in 1608, Mayr constructed his own.
- Along comes Mayr, and, appropriating my very observations, he prints in the title page of his book and again in the opening part of his work that he had already made his observations in the year 1609, trying to give people the idea that he was first.
- Although it is impossible to prove whether his claim is true or false, the general opinion among historians of science is that Mayr did observe the moons of Jupiter before Galileo, but failed to understand the significance of what he saw (i.e. failed to realise that the moons were orbiting the planet).
- Mayr did, however, name the moons Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto - the names by which they are still known.
- Mayr published a book giving details of the orbits of the moons of Jupiter in 1614.
- The data he gave is more accurate than that of Galileo, so this shows convincingly that Galileo was wrong in believing that Mayr may never have observed the moons of Jupiter at all.
- Is it possible that Mayr, the militant Lutheran, may have been attacked more vigorously by Galileo, the staunch Catholic, partly as a result of their religious differences?
Born 20 January 1573, Gunzenhausen, Bavaria, Germany. Died 26 December 1624, Ansbach, Bavaria, Germany.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Germany
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive