Throughout history people have always looked up at the sky and wondered about the universe. Some just wonder while others attempt to solve this mystery. One of the people who had endeavored to solve it was Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus was born in the present day town of Torun, Poland in February of 1473. While still a young boy, Copernicus was put in custody of his uncle when his father died. His uncle made sure that his nephew got the best education they could obtain. This is how Copernicus was able to enter the University of Krakow, which was well known for its mathematics, and astronomy programs. After finishing in Krakow, he was inspired to further his education by going to the University of Bologna in Italy. While there, he roomed with Domenico Maria de Novara, the mathematics professor. In 1500, Copernicus lectured in Rome and in the next year, obtained permission to study medicine at Padua. Before returning to Poland, he received a doctorate in canon law from the University of Ferrara. Copernicus lived with his uncle in his bishopric palace. While he stayed there he published his first book which was a translation of letters written by the 7th century writer, Theophylactus of Simocatta. After that he wrote an astronomical discourse that laid the foundation of his heliocentric theory; the theory that the sun is the center of our solar system. However, it was 400 years before it was published. After leaving his uncle, he wrote a treatise on money, and began the work for which he is most famous, On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres, which took him almost 15 years to write. It is ironic that what he devoted a good part of his life would not be published until he was on his deathbed.
To understand the contribution Copernicus made to the astrological community, you first need to understand the theory that had been accepted at the time of Copernicus. The question of the arrangement of the planets arose about 4000 BC. At this time the Mesopotamians believed that the earth was at the center of the universe and that other heavenly bodies moved around the earth. This belief was synonymously known as geocentric. They believed this, but they had no scientific proof to support it. It was not until the 2nd century that the famous astronomer, Ptolemy, gave an explanation for the movement of the stars across the sky that the geocentric theory began to become creditable. That was the theory that existed at the time of Copernicus. Copernicus was not the first one to come up with the idea of a sun-centered (heliocentric) universe. Not too long after Ptolemy theorized about the movement of the stars there was a man by the name of Aristarchus of Samos. He was the first one to propose the idea of a sun-centered universe. The stipulations of Copernicus’s theory are:
- The earth rotates on its axis daily and rotates around the sun yearly
- The other planets circle the earth
- As the earth rotates it wobbles like a top
- The stars are stationary
- The greater the radius of a planet’s orbit, the more time it takes to make one complete circuit around the sun All these concepts seem totally logical to us, however most 16th century readers were not ready to accept that the earth rotated around the sun.
It may seem weird but the calculations that Copernicus made were not much more accurate than his predecessors, however most of his theory was accepted, while the radical ones were omitted. The one concept that was not liked was that the earth moved around the sun. To deal with this dilemma, Tycho Brahe met Copernicus and Ptolemy halfway by making the earth a stationary object while the planets orbited the sun in the center. The rotating earth idea was not revived until the English philosopher Isaac Newton started explaining celestial mechanics.
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