Nicolaus Copernicus and the Copernican Revolution

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

      When Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun, Poland, in 1473 (with the actual name Mikolaj Kopernik), the Western world accepted what was known as the Ptolemaic Theory of the structure of the universe, which the Greek-Egyptian, Ptolemy, proposed at Alexandria in 150 AD as a distillation of the thoughts of Aristotle. This consisted of an inert, immobile Earth at the center of the universe (stars, moon, planets, meteors, etc.), such universe being a closed space revolving about the earth like a spherical envelope, beyond which, nothing existed.

It should be added here that back in 200 BC there was a dissenter, by the name of Aristarchus of Samos (an island off modern Turkey) who insisted that the Sun stood at the center. But Aristotle's system prevailed because it appealed to simple observation (though there were mysteries regarding the peculiar behavior of planets), and, by the time the Catholic Church was distributed across Europe, appealed also as in comport with Biblical passages of Genesis. This latter point would be a thorn in the slow confirmation of the Copernican revolution.

Nicolaus was prepared by his guardian from an early age to be a priest, an occupation which Nicolaus would frustrate by continuous immersion in study. His early interest was mathematics; he would eventually study medicine and practice it, but his mature interest settled into astronomy.

The reader must understand that in the 15th Century, astronomy, and its cousin, astrology, were taught as academic courses for the purpose of preparing navigators at sea, or for instruction in creating accurate calendars. Nicolaus (who had moved his learning from Polish universities to Italian ones and had changed his name to the Latin form) became increasingly fascinated by the movement of astronomic bodies, and attempted to explain their movements with his knowledge of mathematics. This would be the key. That, and his incessant cataloging of ancient observations, and the thorough addition of his numerous detailed observations, which, it should be emphasized, were done by eye, since the telescope was a hundred years from appearing.

Copernicus would declare, when his opus would be published two months before his death, that the Sun was "near the center" of the universe, the Earth was one of the six planets (Neptune, Uranus and Pluto were undiscovered) which revolved in a circle around the Sun, while the Moon revolved around the Earth. And the Earth MOVED. It rotated on its axis, taking a day to do so, and this explained night and day. Revolving around the Sun explained the recurring seasons, and the apparent movement of the stars. The planets revolving in circles at different speeds explained their sometime peculiar movement relative to Earth.

Well, almost. Copernicus made one mistake. He accepted the classical argument that celestial bodies which moved did so in circular orbits. We now know the planets revolve in ellipses. And it is that understanding which solved all the remaining mysteries about the behavior of the planets, relative to the Earth.

It seems now clear that Nicolaus did not wait 30 years to publish his data out of fear of injury from the Church, but from his desire to expand the data which proved, mathematically, the validity of his theory, a theory which would be heralded by scientists which followed him, who would be injured by the Church. One such was the Italian astronomer Giordano Bruno, who saw Copernicus and raised: the universe (he meant our "solar system") was made up of many "systems" consisting of suns and planets, and life may be discovered on them! For this heresy Bruno was tried by the Inquisition and burned at the stake in 1600.

(We don't burn prescient scientists anymore, we merely ruin their reputations when they don't follow the prepared script, such as today, when the "heretics" are those climatologists who will not accept "global warming" as a human-induced phenomenon. Some things we never learn. *)

The better known Italian astronomer, Galileo, who now had a telescope, confirmed the Copernican system and was brought to trial in 1633. Threatened with torture and death, Galileo recanted, and lived, though confined to his villa at Florence.

A missing element of the theory would be supplied by the Englishman Sir Isaac Newton, who, in developing the Theory of Gravity, would explain some of the behaviors in this "new astronomy".

A lot of discoveries about our universe have been made since these revolutionary times, including the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the universe, and therein lies a paradox. Aristotle said the Earth was the center of the universe, and Copernicus countered that the Sun was. Big Bang Theory says that "all points in the universe" have equal claim to being at the center. Well, that would include the Earth, would it not? Have we come full circle?
His dates: 1473 - 1543.   Copernicus' masterpiece, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium ("Concerning the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres"), was published in 1543 at Nuremberg, two hundred pages, written in Latin. The original manuscript was discovered intact in Prague in the middle of the 19th Century. Copernicus would die two months after publication of "De Revolutionibus" from a cerebral bleed, not knowing the impact of his role in the revolution which would capture and propel the emerging scientific movement.
* Global warming is a hoax, proprigated by Marxists, anti-capitalists, and others who wish that America be crippled economically.

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