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Significant Astronomers: Jeremiah Horrocks

It’s hard to believe that people actually thought the world was flat and they could ‘fall off’ if they got too close to the edge. During the times of Jeremiah Horrocks, people had already caught on that the world was round. Not much else was known about astronomy and other fields of science. Alchemy and witchcraft were popular methods of viewing the unknown and solving everyday problems. In this article, you will learn a bit about the man who became known as the Father of British Astronomy.

Born in 1618 in Toxteth, Liverpool, England, Horrocks grew up in a household led by his deeply religious Puritan father, who farmed for a living. At an early age, Horrocks showed signs of intelligence and by the time he was 14 years old, he had already started an education at Cambridge University. At that time, no one knew that he would blossom into a scholar with many contributions that helped shape the progress of astronomy.

Horrocks enjoyed anything and everything centered on the works of German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who formulated the laws of planetary motion. It was Kepler who correctly foresaw the Venus transit of 1631, followed by a prediction that the next one would take place in 1756. This theory didn’t sit right with Horrocks who believed that they would occur in pairs , eight years apart. He believed that the next would occur 105 years or 121 years later, slating the next transit coming around in 1639.

 On November 24, 1639, Horrocks accompanied by a friend took pleasure in witnessing his prediction come true. At the time, Horrocks was only 20 years of age. To go against the thoughts of a well-known astronomer was an unthinkable act. The icing on the cake was being able to see your own prediction take place right before your very eyes.

After this accurate feat, Horrocks continued to make progress in astronomy, calculating the sizes of the Sun and other planets of the Solar System. These calculations would also defy common religious views because he had shown that the Sun (along with Jupiter and Saturn) was larger than the Earth. Luckily, Horrocks lived during a time that was much lenient than 20 years beforehand , people like Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake for holding on to the same beliefs.

Before he was 20 years old, Horrocks started to observe tides. He also constructed his own theory concerning gravity before Newton was ever born. Horrocks also stated that the reason the planets shine is because they are basking in the reflection of the Sun’s light. Other accomplishments linked to Horrocks include the confirmation of Galileo’s discovery of four moon of Jupiter and gave an explanation on the existence of comets.

Just one year and a couple months after Horrocks made his grand prediction, his life was cut short on January 3, 1641. While he didn’t live as long as other astronomers, his contributions were larger than life, earning him the nickname of the Father of British Astronomy.