Renaissance Astronomer Profile: Copernicus (The Beginning)

CopernicusNicolaus Copernicus is the European astronomer best known as the man responsible for making strides in explaining the heliocentric model of the solar system. Through many different writings and theories, he was able to convey the message that the sun represented the center of the universe. Often, educators refer to his publication, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) as the beginning of modern astronomy. This article aims to present more on this intriguing forward-thinker.

Copernicus was hailed as a central figure within the world of science, as he also played an important role throughout the Scientific Revolution. He additionally held many different hats, including mathematician, physicist, classical scholar, military leader, and economist (just to name a few). While he was responsible for wearing an assortment of hats, astronomy was one of his most prominent interests.

One of the most known theories associated with Copernicus is the heliocentric theory, which had already found its foundation within the Greek, Indian, and Muslim cultures some centuries before he added to the ideas. It was his view that he pushed regarding the sun and not the Earth as the center of the solar system that gained quite a reputation as one of the most important advancements within the history of modern science.

Copernicus was born in 1473 to parents who made a home within the city of Torun (a Royal Prussia province associated with the Kingdom of Poland). Copernicus first gained his education in 1491 when he enrolled at the Krakow Academy) now known as Jagiellonian University), where he soon fostered an interest in science. Soon, he would begin collection many books on the subject, until he racked up quite a library full of scientific publications. Later, his library would succumb to a war between the Swedes, which took place during what was called “The Deluge.” What is left is now part of the Uppsala University Library.

After completing four years at Krakow, Copernicus decided to briefly stay at home within Torun until he became interested in studying law and medicines. This would take him to universities situated in Bologna and Padua. It was Copernicus’ uncle (who happened to be a bishop) that gave him the money to pursue his education, as it was his intent that his nephew would someday become a bishop. These plans took a drastic turn when his studies regarding canon and civil law at Bologna were interrupted when he met the well-known astronomer named Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara.

Copernicus began to attend Novara’s lectures and took on the role as disciple, as well as assistant. His influence is seen though his first observations he made in 1497, which took place with Novara by his side. These would later gain entry in his book, “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.”

In Part 2 of “Renaissance Astronomer Profile: Copernicus,” you will learn more about his studies, including some of the encounters that would later shape his own theories regarding the sun, Earth, and the remaining planets of the solar system.