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Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

Mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer

Kepler was a German mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer who played a huge role in the scientific revolution of the 17th century.

Johannes Kepler was born on the 27th of December 1571 in Germany. Kepler’s family was not very wealthy as his father was a mercenary. He had two brothers and a sister.

Kepler’s father was believed to have died fighting in the Eighty Years’ War, and his mother who was considered a traditional healer was accused of witchcraft, a crime in those days.

Kepler was born earlier than planned and because of this, he was quite a small sickly child. Even so, he was very smart, and impressed many people with his math skills.

He was introduced to astronomy when his mother took him to observe the Great Comet of 1577, and later the lunar eclipse in 1580.

He fell in love with the subject instantly and would live to make huge contributions to it during his life.

He studied a variety of subjects like Latin, English, Christianity, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, and astronomy.

He intently studied the works of Ptolomy and Copernicas and believed the heliocentric theory, that the Sun was the centre around which all other planets orbited.

His biggest contribution to the field of astronomy was his three laws of planetary motion.

These were; the sun was the centre and all planets orbit around it in an oval (elliptical) shape, that the line joining a planet and the sun has equal areas during equal time intervals, and that the square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

Most of Kepler’s best work was achieved around the same time that Galileo Galilee did his. Both these extraordinary men disagreed on many topics of physics, philosophy and astronomy.

He also determined the ‘refraction drives vision in the eye’ which helped him create eyeglasses for people who could see close but not far, and those who could see far, yet not close (near and farsightedness).

He also explained how a telescope worked and showed how images can be enlarged and made clearer.

He was probably driven to these experiments because as a child he was struck with scarlet fever that affected his eyes and the movement of his hands.

He also said that the principle of gravity was based on the movement of two bodies, not one, and that the moon caused the motion of tides on the Earth.

Kepler put forward the idea that the sun rotates too, and invented the word ‘satellite’.

Using his understanding of mathematics and astronomy, he even calculated the year that Jesus Christ was born.

Kepler married twice and had many children although some died in infancy. His first wife died and his second marriage was happier than his first.

Based on all his astronomical observations he published many famous works during his time that allowed many others to learn from his work.

In honour of his great service, NASA honoured a mission after him, called the Kepler Mission, which uses high-powered space telescopes to search for other planets like Earth.

Like many other great personalities before and after him, Kepler is honoured both historically and culturally with many other things like the NASA mission being named after him.

Kepler fell ill and died on the 15th of November 1630. Swedish army forces destroyed his burial site, so only his tombstone remains.