The Copernican Model

Nicolaus Copernicus was born on Feb. 19, 1473 in Poland. At the age of 10, his father died, leaving him to be cared for by his uncle who oversaw his education. At the age of 18, he traveled to Italy to attend college where he intended to study the laws and regulations of the catholic church and become a canon. He instead spent a majority of his time studying mathematics and astronomy. While away at school, his uncle was elevated in his church to the position of Prince-Bishop of Warmia which gave him the opportunity to place Nicolaus in the Warmia canonry. After 7 years, he earned a doctorate in canonry and law, but remained more interested in astronomy. During his time at the University of Bologna, he lived and worked under astronomy professor Domenico Maria de Novara. When he returned home and was able to live in a tower which had an observatory that he looked through in his spare time. During many hours observing the night sky, he began to question the theory that had been proposed by Aristotle and Ptolemy 1400 years earlier. This theory was that of the Ptolemaic system, in other words, a geocentric universe. He first noticed some striking problems with the mathematics of the system, the paths of the celestial bodies were too complex and sometimes the planets would travel backwards. Astronomers call this “retrograde motion” and Ptolemy accounted for this by incorporating circles inside other circles,  known as eclipses. Unfortunately these paths were too complicated to have occured naturally, so Copernicus eventually doubted the system as a whole. He finally determined that the earth’s motion in space creates the retrograde motion of the other planets, the rotation of the earth on its own axis is what causes the rising and setting of the sun, and most importantly, the Sun is the center of the universe, not the Earth. With this conclusion he was able to simplify the paths of the planets and stars, determine the order of the planets, and create his own system, the Copernican system.

Sources: Redd, Taylor. "Nicolaus Copernicus Biography: Facts and Discoveries." 19 Feb. 2013. 28 Feb. 2018.

Image source: Public domain.

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

circa. 1514