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Who Is Nicolaus Copernicus that Laid the Foundations of Modern Astronomy?

Written by Enes Veysel Ugur

In the history of humanity, there’s an enlightened and bright period called the Renaissance. A bright age of developments in the arts and sciences. Of course, there are also the creators of this period, who made the greatest works and inventions in many fields real, Kepler, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Michelangelo, Galileo, and many more. Today, Copernicus is the subject of our topic. So who is Nicolaus Copernicus?

Nicolaus Copernicus, who was also known as the father of modern astronomy, had great work in the acceptance of the heliocentric model of the universe. He was a Polish astronomer. He was also interested in mathematics, languages, and cartography.

At the time when Copernicus was living, in the 15th century, the terms astrology, astronomy, and mathematics were almost used for each other, whose goal was to maintain the theoretical tool and movement integrity for describing the sky order. That method aided scientists, who were studying the sky by using mathematics [Westman, 2022].

Giovanni Pico's attack on the foundations of astrology formed the background of Copernicus' research and also formed the basic historical considerations. The second longstanding dispute that Pico didn't mention had to do with the status of planetary models. From ancient times, astronomical modeling has been made as planets move in angular advances using a fixed radius at a fixed distance from their centers of motion [TechnoPixel, 2022]. European astronomers argued that Earth was the center of the universe. Despite the contradictory works by Aristarchus and Biruni, it was also adopted by most ancient philosophers and Bible writers.

Copernicus argued that all the planets in the Milky Way revolve around the sun, including the earth. According to Copernicus, the Earth rotates daily around its axis as well as the sun's axis on annual basis, which creates seasons due to gradual shifts. Between 1508 and 1514, Copernicus wrote a brief astronomical treatise, "The Minor Commentary" (Commentariolus), in which he explained this thesis, which formed the basis of the heliocentric system. In the examination, he correctly revealed the order of all the planets relative to the sun and correctly predicted their orbits [TechnoPixel, 2022].

The heliocentric theory was used in place of the Ptolemaic theory, which suggested that the sun revolved around the earth. After Copernicus left Italy, he said that the Ptolemaic system was not enough to study nature. This method was not mathematically correct. But in the age of Copernicus, the Church was adopting the Ptolemaic theory, mentioning its existence in the Bible.

However, his treatise, "The Minor Commentary," was not published until the end of Copernicus's life, in 1543, as new information led to new problems as well as solutions [Rabin, 2019]. Since the earth was seen as the center of the universe, objects were always thought to fall to the ground, and Copernicus did not know how to explain this in a heliocentric system. Therefore, he continued to believe the old belief that circles ruled the heavens, but his findings showed that even in a heliocentric arrangement, the planets do not revolve around the sun in a circle [TechnoPixel, 2022]. In this invention, he had the disadvantage of not being able to explain the changes in the brightness of the planets, since the distances were always the same. In other words, the disadvantage was that he could not study the planets as transparent spheres and was unaware of the concept of gravity.

This proposition was developed and popularized by Galileo and Kepler in the early 17th century. However, Galileo was condemned to death for developing this premise, since they lived in a time when the scientific discovery was punishable [Helden, 2022]. Of course, despite the church, knowledge could not be concealed and Copernican Theory was accepted by scholars after Newton's work in the field of Elysian mechanics and his publication "Principia Mathematica" at the end of the 17th century [TechnoPixel, 2022]. First, it quickly spread to non-Catholic countries, and by the end of the 18th century, the Solar System macrocosm model was accepted by almost the entire world.

In the end, humanity understood that Nicolaus Copernicus was right from the beginning. Copernicus, whose name was not even written on his tombstone, was reburied in 2010 with a black tombstone in a cathedral in Poland. In 1972, NASA launched a satellite called "Copernicus" into space, and the satellite studied interstellar matter during its 8-year operation.

  1. Helden, A. Van (2022, August 24). Galileo. Encyclopedia Britannica.

  2. Rabin, Sheila, "Nicolaus Copernicus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

  3. TechnoPixel. (2022). Who is Nicolaus Copernicus? His life and works.

  4. Westman, R. S. (2022, October 4). Nicolaus Copernicus. Encyclopedia Britannica.


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