Histocial Astronomers in Context

Name Birth Death
Nicolaus Copernicus 2/19/1473 5/24/1543
Johannes Kepler 12/27/1571 11/15/1630
Tycho Brahe 12/14/1546 10/24/1601
Galileo Galilei 2/15/1564 1/8/1642
Isaac Newton 1/4/1643 3/31/1727

Kepler, Brahe and Galileo all lived around the same time although Brahe was one generation removed from the other two.

Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish mathematician and astronomer who lived and worked in Frombork, Poland until his death in 1543. His primary contribution to astronomy is the Copernican Model, a heliocentric model of the solar system that contrasted with the widely accepted geocentric model proposed by Ptolemy. In addition to the shift from geocentricity to heliocentricity, Copernicus’s model was the first to suggest the rotation of the earth about an axis, a concept which revolutionized astronomy. Despite the numerous strides made by Copernicus’s model, it had several shortcomings that had to be corrected by astronomers in later years, among these the insistence that the planetary orbits were perfect circles.

Copernicus lived at an exciting time in history and countless other notable developments occurred during his lifespan. Copernicus’s life followed the end of the renaissance and the start of the Protestant Reformation, hallmarked in 1517 by the publication of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Luther’s work dealt with corruption and abuse of church power, most notable issues of nepotism, embezzlement and the sale of indulgences to wealthy patrons. Copernicus came of age during the era of discovery, with Columbus’s landing in the new world occurring just before Copernicus’s 20th birthday. I think the significance of Columbus’s voyage is quite well understood, so I’m going to take this space to complain about how Columbus is taught in schools. I was told up until 9th grade that everyone thought the world was flat except for Columbus who just knew it was round but needed some way to prove it. This is wrong. It was understood that the earth was round since the Hellenistic period, and the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes correctly calculated the circumference of the earth sometime in the 200’s B.C. People didn’t want to fund Columbus because he vastly underestimated the size of the earth and expected him to die of starvation in the middle of the Atlantic, which he would have had he not run into the Caribbean. End rant.

There were numerous influential figures that lived around Copernicus’s time. Among the most notable is the Italian sculptor, painter and architect Michelangelo for whom one of the Ninja Turtles is named. Perhaps his best known work, the David, is an enormous marble status of the biblical hero David.

It’s interesting to look back on this period and time and see who and what overlapped. I like to think about whether the scientists and artists that were prominent around this time would have liked each other or had bitter rivalries. Apparently Kepler hated Tycho Brahe.

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