So far as hypotheses are concerned, let no one expect anything certain from astronomy, which cannot furnish it, lest he accept as the truth ideas conceived for another purpose, and depart from this study a greater fool than when he entered it.
― Nicolaus Copernicus
― Nicolaus Copernicus
A Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) is acknowledged as the Father of Modern Astronomy. He was the first person to propose that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun in circular orbits. His work was based truly on detailed observation and experiments through naked eyes, as the telescope was invented after almost a century. This article enlists the achievements of this great astronomer that paved the way for new advances and developments in astronomical science.
Nicolaus Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473, in Thorn, Poland. After his father passed away when he was 10 years old, his maternal uncle took charge of his education and career. Copernicus was a lawyer, tax collector, physician, canon (Church official), economist, translator, mathematician, artist, and diplomat. His major interests were in the field of astronomy. He was one of the first people to combine mathematics and astronomy.
Nicolaus Copernicus' Work
Heliocentric System of the Universe
In order to understand the significance of the contributions of Copernicus, we must first understand the background and era in which they were made.
› Copernicus felt that Ptolemy's theories were incorrect. With careful observation, he claimed that the Earth was not at the center of the universe, and the heavenly bodies do not revolve around the Earth. In fact, he stated that the Earth is a planet which revolves around the Sun along with the other planets in circular orbits. This was the heliocentric model of the universe which he proposed.
› He stated that the Earth rotates around its own axis, and as a result, the heavenly bodies appear to move backwards. He compiled his observations in handwritten notes called Commentariolus, which he distributed among his friends. These notes stated seven axioms that described various facets of the heliocentric model of the solar system. The assumptions are given below:
- Planets don't revolve around a fixed point, and there is no one specific center in the universe.
- The Earth is not the center of the universe; however, it is at the center of the lunar orbit.
- The center of the universe is near the Sun, and all celestial bodies revolve around it.
- The distance between the Earth and the Sun is less as compared to the distance of the stars from the Earth as well as the Sun.
- The apparent motion of the stars is due to the daily rotation of the Earth.
- The revolution of the Earth around the Sun causes the annual cycle of the Sun.
- The apparent retrograde motion of the planets is caused by the motion of the Earth.
› Legend states that the first printed copy of his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was given to Nicolaus the day he breathed his last, permitting him to bid goodbye to his life's achievements. Less than a century later, Kepler brought forth a modern-day view of the Universe with the assistance of other brilliant astronomers.
General Theory of Money
› Copernicus studied the value of money and set forth a quantity theory of money. In monetary economics, this theory states that if circulation of money is increased, the price of goods also increases proportionately. He wrote an essay on this subject and a paper entitled Monetae cudendae ratio (On the Minting of Coin). He also formulated a principle that bad money drives out the good coinage out of circulation.
› This was later studied by Thomas Gresham and named as Gresham's Law, which is still known as Copernicus-Gresham Law in Poland and Central and Eastern Europe.
Nicolaus' ideas that were published just two months before his death took serious control only a hundred years later. When Galileo Galilei arrogated that the Earth revolved around the Sun, taking forward Nicolaus' work, he was put under house arrest for differing in his beliefs with the Catholic Church. Regardless of all, the observances of the universe proved both the men correct in their inference on the motion of heavenly bodies. Today, the solar system―wherein planets revolve around the Sun―is referred to as Heliocentric or Copernican model.
Copernicus was many years ahead of his time, and he laid the basis of astronomy. He started a scientific revolution and pioneered the way for new breakthroughs and discoveries that changed the perception of man. They helped in the better understanding of the universe and paved the way for many major advancements and scientific discoveries in other fields as well.