The Father of Modern Astronomy Dies – 5/24/1523

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Born on February 19, 1473, in Torun, Poland, Nicolaus Copernicus developed his own model of the planetary system. Later, around 1514, he shared his research in the Commentariolus.

The Polish astronomer is considered the father of modern astronomy. He was the first European scientist to propose that planets, including Earth, revolve around the sun. He was instrumental in establishing the concept of a heliocentric solar system. According to him, the sun was at the center of the universe. 

Throughout his time in Lidzbark-Warminski, he continued studying astronomy. He is said to have made consultations with various sources, among them Epitome of the Almagest, which was Regiomontanus’s 15th-century work. The work presented an alternative to Ptolemy’s work and greatly influenced his work.

According to Scholars, Copernicus may have started developing his own celestial model by around 1508. During the second century A.D, Ptolemy had come up with a planetary model that deviated from Aristotle’s knowledge that celestial bodies moved around the earth in a fixed circular motion. Copernicus heliocentric solar system then named the sun as the center of the solar system. He was trying to address the inconsistencies between Ptolemy and Aristotle.

Even though his theory is considered revolutionary, he was not the first astronomer to suggest a heliocentric system. In the third century B.C, Aristarchus of Samos, an ancient Greek astronomer, had suggested that the sun was at the center. Sadly, a heliocentric theory was dismissed because Ptolemy’s work seemed more convincing to the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the dismissal, Copernicus’s worked proved to be more detailed and accurate.

Copernicus was still dedicated. In 1513, he built his own modest observatory. Even though he had made a great effort with his research, his observations sometimes led him to form conclusions that were not accurate. For example, at one point, he argued that planetary orbits occurred in perfect circles. Later, Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, confirmed that planetary orbits were not perfect circles.

Before he published his work, “Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of Heavenly Orbs,” in 1543, European astronomers, ancient philosophers, and biblical writers believed that planet Earth was at the center of the universe. Copernicus also argued that Earth turned on its axis daily and that the change in seasons resulted from gradual shifts of this axis. In addition, Copernicus correctly described the order of the planets that is common knowledge today. He stated the position of Earth from the sun and accurately estimated their orbital periods.

Copernicus died on May 24, 1543, the same year his major work was published. His death seemed to have saved him from the outrage of some religious leaders who were against his heliocentric view of the universe. Copernicus’s conclusions were against the orthodox tenets of religion. His work on the solar system had become almost universally accepted by the late 18th century. The Roman Catholic Church banned his second book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium decades after his death.

It is alleged that mathematician and scholar, Georg Joachim Rheticus, had presented Copernicus with a copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in May 1543. Unluckily, Copernicus passed away while clutching the book on May 24. He had suffered the aftermath of a recent stroke. 

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