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Sister Maria Celeste, born Virginia Gamba on August 16, 1600, was the daughter of Galileo Galilei and Marina Gamba. She was the eldest of three siblings: sister Livia and brother Vincenzio. All three children were born out of wedlock, and their father considered daughters Virginia and Livia unmarriageable. He entered them into San Matteo convent shortly after Virginia's thirteenth birthday. Virginia chose her new name, Maria Celeste, in honor of the virgin Mary, and her father's love of astronomy.

Although Maria Celeste was confined inside the walls of the convent at San Matteo for the remainder of her life, she was a constant source of support for both her father, whose books began a controversy in the Catholic Church, and the convent to which she was sent. Maria Celeste served as San Matteo's apothecary, and also kept the convent afloat through the influence of her father. She sent him herbal cures for his various maladies while additionally seeing to the convent's finances and occasionally staging plays from inside the convent's cloistered walls. There is evidence she prepared the manuscripts for some of Galileo's books.

The Inquisition tried Galileo for heresies committed against the church in 1633. He was forced to recant his view that the earth was not the center of the universe, and was confined to his home for the rest of his days. Soon after he returned to Arcetri in disgrace, Maria Celeste contracted dysentery and died. She was thirty-four years old.

After Galileo's death, one hundred twenty four letters from Maria Celeste were discovered amongst his papers: the remnants of a vast correspondence with his elder daughter. It is not known what happened to Galileo's responses to Maria Celeste, and it is likely they were destroyed by church authorities.

Of Maria Celeste, Galileo once wrote, [she is] "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."

The IAU has named the impact crater Maria Celestemarker on Venus after her. The book Galileo's Daughter (hardcover, ISBN 0802713432, paperback, ISBN 0140280553) describes her life and that of her father.

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