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Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543)

Astronomer, heliocentric theory

Nicolaus Copernicus was a scientist and astronomer who developed the theory that the sun was the centre of the Universe.

His theory, called the heliocentric model changed the way the entire world understood itself and its surroundings.

Before Copernicus put forward his theory, people believed in the Ptolemic model of the solar system (theorised by Ptolemy) that said that the Earth was the centre of the Universe.

The Ptolemic model theory was called the ‘geocentric theory’. Geo means earth and centric means centre.

Nicolaus Copernicus was born on the 19th of February 1473 in Poland. His family were merchants and thanks to his uncle, he received a good education in great universities.

At these universities, he studied the liberal arts, law, medicine, and canon law (laws and regulations specially concerning Christianity).

During this time, he met a maths professor Domenico who was also very interest in astronomy and geography.

Through Professor Domenico’s influence, Copernicus began to learn about Ptolemy and observed the eclipse by the moon of the star Aldebaran in 1947.

Three years later, with much knowledge on the stars and heavens with him, Copernicus began lecturing astronomy in Rome and a year later, he began his study of medicine.

Copernicus was a gifted man, not just in the sciences but also in languages. He was supposed to have spoken Latin, German, Polish, Greek and Italian easily and well.

The astronomical theory that Copernicus proposed (heliocentric theory) said that the earth rotated on its axis daily (that was how night became day and day became night), and the earth rotated around the sun yearly (how the months change).

He also said that like the earth the other planets in the solar system rotate around the sun, while the earth wobbles like a spinning top as it rotates.

The Copernican theory was also able to clearly explain the behaviour of other planets in different circumstances.

One of the most amazing facts about Copernicus’s heliocentric theory was that all his observations of the heavens were done with his naked eye; the telescope came more than fifty years after his death when Galileo used it.

Unfortunately, unlike Galileo, Copernicus did not have the necessary tools (telescope) to prove that his heliocentric theory was correct.

Galileo Galilee’s tireless work in physics that finally proved Copernicus’s theory to be correct sadly came too late; Copernicus was dead some 50 years before that.

He included his theories and observations in books such as the Commentariolus, and was soon asked to give his expert opinion on astronomical topics such as how the calendar should be made to match the way the planets were positioned.

Even though he never lived to see how his work affected the world, he started what is known as the Scientific Revolution, which encouraged man to question the way he believed the world was, and to support it with clear observable facts.

He never married nor had any children, and towards the end of his life he became paralyzed. He passed away on the 24th of May 1543.