Back in the day, scientists believed that light was infinitely fast; it traveled instantaneously. But 344 years ago, on November 21, 1676, a Danish astronomer named Ole Rømer disproved that. When he studied Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, he discovered that light did not travel instantaneously, and light had a finite speed.
He was trying to figure out how long it takes Io to orbit Jupiter in hopes of using it as a cosmic clock. He watched Io disappear behind Jupiter and reappear on the other side. He did this over and over every 42 hours for years.
To his surprise, the timing of the eclipses was not consistent. When Earth was closest to Jupiter, the eclipses happened 11 minutes early. Likewise, when the two planets were farthest away, the eclipses were 11 minutes behind schedule.
Rømer figured out the pattern and made an accurate prediction for Io's eclipse on Nov. 9, 1676. Then on Nov. 21, he took his findings to the Royal Academy of Sciences and explained that a finite speed of light must be responsible.
What an intelligent man.
(Image Credit: NASA/ Wikimedia Commons)