Yesterday we were honored with the visit of Kip S. Thorne, the Feyman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at Caltech. Before delivering the twenty-sixth annual Ta-You Wu Lecture in Physics, Professor Thorne came to view one of the most remarkable artifacts held in the Special Collections Library: a single-leaf manuscript containing Galileo's own annotations of his first observations of the moons of Jupiter in January 1610.
Professor Thorne's visit somehow felt like a historical encounter between the old and new astronomies. For many decades, Dr. Thorne's research has been focused on Einstein's theory of relativity and on astrophysics, particularly on relativistic stars, black holes, and gravitational waves. Along with Raier Weiss and Ronald Drever, Dr. Thorne co-founded LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) a multi-million project designed to study gravitational waves created from the merger of black holes. In fact, on September 14 2015 LIGO began the journey of gravitational astronomy by detecting gravitational waves reaching the earth; this discovery was led by the scientific team led by Professor Keith Riles at the University of Michigan. However, this exciting new astronomy is also indebted to a long tradition of electromagnetic astronomy, which Galileo inaugurated by directing his newly-designed telescope toward Jupiter and its moons. During his visit at Special Collections, Dr. Thorne also examined our copy of the first edition of Sidereus Nuncius (Florence: 1610), where Galileo expanded on his notes on Jupiter's moons, including other recent astronomical observations.