Galileo’s Moon: Truth and Deception

June 18, 2019


Secrets of the Dead: Galileo’s Moon premieres Tuesday, July 2 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

A new Secrets of the Dead episode tells the stunning turnabout in the case of a book believed to be a precious artifact of scientific discovery.

Galileo’s Truth

Galileo Galilei.

Galileo Galilei.


Mathematician, physicist, and military architect Galileo set in motion a scientific revolution when he published Sidereus Nuncius in 1610. At that time – and for at least 2,000 years prior – it had been generally accepted that Earth was the center of the universe and that all heavenly bodies revolved around it.

It was thanks to a new instrument – the telescope – that Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) could make his important discoveries about the cosmos. His observations of Earth’s moon as well as Jupiter and its moons in Sidereus Nuncius established the basic principles of the universe as we know them today: the sun, surrounded by 9 orbiting planets, is the center of our solar system and not Earth.

Galileo’s sketches of the moon.

Galileo’s sketches of the moon.

In this, Galileo was in agreement mathematician and astronomer Copernicus, who received less attention in 1543 when he formulated that the Sun was at the center of the universe.

Galileo’s book Sidereus Nuncius was the first published scientific work based on observations made through a telescope. Roughly 150 of those editions are known to exist today out of the original 550 copies of Sidereus Nuncius. The market price for a good first edition, depending on its condition, is between €300,000 and €500,000 (about $335,000 and $558,000 USD).

Though an acclaimed academic of his time, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest in 1633 where he would spend the remainder of his life for actions ultimately related to his work in Sidereus Nuncius.

Deception Via Forgery

An example of a negative that could be used to create a photopolymer plate like the one used to forge Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius.” Credit: Copyright PO François & M. Pansard

An example of a negative that could be used to create a photopolymer plate like the one used to forge Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius.” Credit: Copyright PO François & M. Pansard


In 2005, Richard Lan, one of the owners of the Martayan Lan antique booksellers in New York City, purchased what was believed to be a rare, original copy of Sidereus Nuncius. It had Galileo’s signature and original watercolor paintings of the phases of the moon. This copy also included a stamp from the Lincean Academy in Rome.

At the time of the book’s discovery, it was believed 17th-century books could not be successfully forged, as books from that time were produced using bits of metal type and a hand press. The letterpress process would require the creation of identical versions of each individual letter and punctuation mark, and the forger would have to match the exact spacing between every single character throughout the book.

In the spring of 2012, Marino Massimo De Caro, then-director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy, was arrested and sentenced to house arrest after stealing possibly thousands of valuable volumes from the Renaissance library under the pretext of renovations. De Caro, a former bookseller, was also one of the men who sold the Sidereus Nuncius copy to Richard Lan.

While working on a review of a book publishing the research on the Martayan Lan copy of Sidereus Nuncius, historian Nick Wilding grew suspicious about its authenticity. After examining the Cesi stamp applied to the work, along with determining that the signature was from a later point in Galileo’s life and finding additional anomalies within the text, Wilding believed the copy was a fake.

Secrets of the Dead: Galileo’s Moon features interviews with Marino Massimo De Caro, former director of the Girolamini Library who readily admits he created the forged copy of Sidereus Nuncius, and historian Nick Wilding, whose suspicions and dogged research exposed the fraud.

Secrets of the Dead: Galileo’s Moon premieres Tuesday, July 2 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN, and streams at the same time.

THIRTEEN Celebrates the Summer of ’69: 50 Years Later is a multiplatform experience celebrating the golden anniversaries of pivotal moments in U.S. history, including the moon landing.