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Volume 28, January 1637.

Galileo's Use of The
Pendulum Swing

In a letter written to the Dutch scholar Lorenzo Realio in June 1637, Galileo explained the method he had in mind to determine longitude at sea and on land by observing the periods of the satellites of Jupiter. This operation required a precise measurement of time and Galileo mentioned that he had invented a clock that was so precise that it could determine very small intervals of time anywhere, without any error whatsoever and in any season of the year.

The accuracy of this clock depended on the isochronism of the oscillations of pendulums of equal length which Galileo had demonstrated in his research in the field of mechanics. The discovery of this mechanism and the role played by Vincenzo Galilei is described in a lengthy account by Viviani in his Racconto Istorico of the life of Galileo. In 1658 Christiaan Huygens claimed that he had discovered how to apply the pendulum to timing devices but his claim was hotly contested by Viviani.

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