Giovanni[a] Domenico Cassini (8 June 1625 – 14 September 1712) was an Italian (naturalised French) mathematician, astronomer and engineer. Cassini was born in Perinaldo, near Imperia, at that time in the County of Nice, part of the Savoyard state. Cassini is known for his work in the fields of astronomy and engineering. Cassini discovered four satellites of the planet Saturn and noted the division of the rings of Saturn; the Cassini Division was named after him. Giovanni Domenico Cassini was also the first of his family to begin work on the project of creating a topographic map of France.
The Cassini space probe, launched in 1997, was named after him and became the fourth to visit Saturn and the first to orbit the planet.
Cassini was the son of Jacopo Cassini, a Tuscan, and Giulia Crovesi. In 1648 Cassini accepted a position at the observatory at Panzano, near Bologna, to work with Marquis Cornelio Malvasia, a rich amateur astronomer, initiating the first part of his career. During his time at the Panzano Observatory, Cassini was able to complete his education under the scientists Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Francesco Maria Grimaldi. In 1650 the senate of Bologna appointed him as the principal chair of astronomy at the University of Bologna.
In San Petronio, Bologna, Cassini convinced church officials to create an improved sundial meridian line at the San Petronio Basilica, moving the pinhole gnomon that projected the Sun's image up into the church's vaults 66.8 meters (219 ft) away from the meridian inscribed in the floor. The much larger image of the Sun's disk projected by the camera obscura effect allowed him to measure the change in diameter of the Sun's disk over the year as the Earth moved toward and then away from the Sun. He concluded the changes in size he measured were consistent with Johannes Kepler's 1609 heliocentric theory, where the Earth was moving around the Sun in an elliptical orbit instead of the Ptolemaic system where the Sun orbited the Earth in a perfect circle.
In 1669 Cassini moved to France and through a grant from Louis XIV of France helped to set up the Paris Observatory, which opened in 1671; Cassini would remain the director of the observatory for the rest of his career until his death in 1712. For the remaining forty-one years of his life Cassini served as astronomer/astrologer to Louis XIV ("The Sun King"); serving the expected dual role yet focusing the overwhelming majority of his time on astronomy rather than the astrology he had studied so much in his youth.
During this time, Cassini's method of determining longitude was used to measure the size of France accurately for the first time. The country turned out to be considerably smaller than expected, and the king quipped that Cassini had taken more of his kingdom from him than he had won in all his wars.