The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus

The famous dictum of Archimedes “Give me a point of support, and I will move the Earth” came to us in the presentation of the 4th century Alexandrian mathematician Pappa. Historians do not know from what source he drew the words of the Syracusan genius, who was killed in 212 BC. It is possible that they simply attributed to Archimedes contemporaries or descendants. Although in fact the man-made displacement of our planet is not only possible, but also repeatedly implemented in practice: the launch of any spacecraft changes the Earth’s orbit (by a very small amount).

But we can talk about the shift of the Earth in a deeper sense. There is every reason to believe that Archimedes, in the spirit of his time, honored our planet with a fixed ball in the center of the universe, around which the spheres where the Sun, the Moon, planets and stars reside are rotating. It is interesting that he not only knew about the heliocentric model of the cosmos put forward by Aristarchus from Samos, but also briefly described it in his work “The Calculus of Sands”. However, Archimedes called this idea hypothetical and never expressed support for it (although as a mathematical exercise he calculated on its basis the radius of the universe, which amounted to 100 trillion stages – about two light years).

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus

In the Ptolemy system, the Earth rests in the center of the world. Around her move the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn; each body moves along a small epicyclone (1). In the Copernican system, the Sun is in the center of the Solar System, around it are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (2). Tycho Brahe believed that the Earth is the center of the solar system, around which the Moon and the Sun move, and the planets move around the Sun together with the stars (3).

The same views were held by astronomers both in Antiquity (with the exception of Seleucus from Seleucia), and in the Middle Ages. For the sake of accuracy, it is worth noting that some discerning minds (primarily the largest astronomer of the 15th century Johann Müller, better known as Regiomontan) saw the weaknesses of geocentric cosmology, but did not offer anything in return. Her, as we would now say, the standard model set forth in the great work of the Alexandrian astronomer II century Claudius Ptolemy “Almagest”, reigned supreme for 13 centuries. Only 1685 years after the death of Archimedes, a boy was born, who was destined to take away from our planet the title of the center of the universe. This intellectual feat marked the beginning of one of the greatest scientific and philosophical revolutions in the spiritual history of mankind.

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Flour of ancient Greek astronomers

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus

To explain the celestial phenomena, astronomers of antiquity were forced to resort to rather complex models. The stars can easily be placed on a single sphere that rotates around the Earth evenly (in any case, if one does not take into account their own movements, which were not known in antiquity), but for the sun this scheme no longer works. Not later than IV century BC. Greek astronomers have found out that the time intervals between solstices and equinoxes are by no means identical, and therefore the Sun moves along the ecliptic with a variable speed. This circumstance can be explained by the fact that our star uniformly circulates around a circle whose center is displaced relative to the Earth (therefore the angles under which four 90-degree arcs of the solar circular orbit are visible from the Earth are not the same) – but then it turns out that the Earth is not the center of the world.

Even worse was the movement of the Moon and the planets. The Greeks knew that the Moon not only moves in the sky unevenly, but during each month changes the diameter of its disk – and quite correctly explained this by the inconstancy of its distance from the Earth. They were also aware that planets write out cunning loops in the sky, periodically changing the direction of motion. In order to organize all this into a single scheme, the Greeks showed considerable ingenuity and eventually developed a model that corresponded quite well to the observations (although it needed periodic corrections in the compilation of tables). In its Ptolemaic version, each planet moves uniformly along a circle, called an epicycle, the center of which moves along a different circle of a much larger radius – the referent. The center of the deferent is shifted relative to the Earth. The angular velocity of rotation of the epicycle in the deferent is constant with respect to the equant (a singular point lying on the extension of the segment connecting the Earth with the center of the deferent) and, consequently, varies periodically with respect to this center. In general, the design is very confusing, and it should not be surprising that Copernicus did not like it.

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Childhood and adolescence

The founder of modern astronomy was born at five o’clock in the evening on February 19, 1473. The date of his birth is recorded in the church book, and the time (probably determined in hindsight) is in the horoscope. He was baptized by Mikolaj, but in the history came the Romanized version of the name (Nicolaus) and the surname Kopernik (Copernicus).

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus CopernicusPosthumous portrait

Copernicus died on May 24, 1543, and was buried in Frombury Cathedral. In 2005, his remains were discovered by a group of Polish archaeologists led by Jerzy Gassovsky (he even managed to reconstruct the scientist’s appearance on a well-preserved skull). They published this information only in November 2008, after the experts confirmed the authenticity of the find.

In the XIII century, the ancestors of Nicholas Copernicus on his father’s line moved from Germany to Poland. At first they lived in Silesia (most likely in the village, which to this day is called Koperniki), and in the middle of the 14th century they moved to Krakow, at that time the capital of the Polish Kingdom. The ancestors of the scientist gradually got out of the craft class into the commercial class. Copernicus’ father, also Nicholas, was a very prosperous merchant. In the late 1450s he moved from Krakow to the north of the country, to Torun, where he became an alderman and married the daughter of one of the richest townspeople, Lucas Watzendrode.

In the 1470’s, Copernicus was born the first-born Andreas, then the daughter of Barbara and Katerina, and then the late Nikolai the younger. When he was about ten years old, the family lost his father. Care for the children took over the maternal uncle, also Lucas. In 1489 he headed the bishopric of Warmia, located to the north-east of Torun, and in this capacity played a significant role in the fate of nephews. After they finished the first and second-degree church schools, Uncle insisted on their admission to Cracow University, where he once studied himself. In the fall of 1491, Andreas and Nikolai left their hometown for the first time in their lives. Most likely, they sat on a sailing barge and went up the Vistula to the royal capital.

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The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus


Jagiellonian University in Krakow, founded in 1364 by King Casimir III the Great (then called the Krakow Academy, and the current name was given at the beginning of the 19th century) is one of the oldest European high schools. In 1410 there appeared the chair of astronomy and astrology (the first in Central Europe). In Copernicus’ student years, she was occupied by the brilliant teacher Wojciech Brudzewski, who was not an orthodox supporter of the geocentric theory and was the first to understand that the Moon moves along an ellipse. Apparently, it was he who interested the young man from Torun with the science of heaven (in any case, it is reliably known that in Krakow Copernicus listened to no less than seven courses in astronomy, astrology and mathematics, and also mastered very perfect astronomical goniometer instruments donated by the University of Buda in Cracow ). For the time of his studies there were such spectacular celestial events as the appearance of a comet, a pair of solar and a pair of lunar eclipses.

Copernicus spent four years in Krakow, but his education did not end there. He lived a year with his uncle, then followed in his footsteps and went to the oldest in Western Europe, the University of Bologna to comprehend the legal wisdom. There he became friends with the professor of astronomy and astrology Domenico Novara, who repeatedly helped to observe the stars. Two more years Copernicus held at the University of Padua, where he studied medicine. In 1503 he completed his formal education and received from the University of Ferrara the degree of doctor of canon law.

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus

The man who pushed the Earth: the scientific revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus


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