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WEDNESDAY

Do you remember where you were when you heard about quarks? The growth of scientific knowledge is such that at the end of the 20th century, even the most astonishing developments barely raise an eyebrow. Four hundred years ago, this was not the case. What one man saw when he looked through a telescope toppled beliefs about the universe that had held sway for 2,000 years and threatened the authority of the dominant European religion. In her previous book, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Dava Sobel turned the vexing navigational problem of measuring longitude into a story, as the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “as much a tale of intrigue as it is of science.” In Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love, she does the same for the man Einstein called “the father of modern physics.” This time, she has the assistance of an eyewitness account: 124 surviving letters written to Galileo by his daughter, which Sobel translated. Virginia, later named Sister Maria Celeste (the most apropos celebrity-daughter name ever until Tiffany Trump came along) was put in a convent when she was 13, but remained Galileo’s correspondent and intellectual devotee until her death in 1634. Sobel uses the letters and other sources to make us understand what comets, moons around Jupiter, and spots on the sun meant in 1610: The heavens were not unchanging perfect spheres, Aristotle was wrong, and the Catholic church was not infallible. For Galileo himself, they meant a date with the Inquisition. Sobel reads and signs copies Galileo’s Daughter at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the National Museum of American History’s Carmichael Auditorium, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW. $13. For reservations call (202) 357-3030. (Janet Hopf)