Also known as the founder of modern astronomy, Nicolaus Copernicus was the first person to devise a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe. Copernicus’ heliocentric theory acted as the catalyst for the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, which is sometimes known as the Copernican revolution. His work forever changed the place of man in the cosmos; no longer could man legitimately think his importance greater than his fellow creatures. Besides an astronomer he was also a great mathematician, physician, quadrilingual polyglot, classical scholar, translator and artist.
Nicolaus Copernicus was born on 19 February 1473 in the city of Toru? (Thorn) in Royal Prussia, where his father, a native of Krakow, had established as a wholesale merchant. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy Toru? merchant. Nicolaus was the youngest child in the family. After his father’s death, he was raised by his mother’s brother, Lucas Watzelrode, a bishop in the Catholic Church. In 1941-1942 Nicolaus completed his matriculation from Kraków Academy after which he devoted himself, during three years, to mathematical science under Albert Brudzewski and incidentally attained some painting skills.
Contributions and Achievements:
During his time at the Kraków Academy he acquired a thorough mathematical-astronomical knowledge. He also studied the idealistic and natural-science writings of Aristotle and Averroes that stirred his interest in learning, and made him familiar with humanistic culture. In 1497 he resumed his studies, this time in Italy, where he went to many universities including Bologna, Padua and Ferrara. There he completed his bi-doctorate in medicine and law. By attending astronomical lectures of many Italian astronomers such as Domenico Maria Novara, Copernicus extended his astronomical knowledge.
After studying for six years, Copernicus returned to Poland in the year 1503 where he was appointed as a canon in the cathedral of Frauenburg and spent a protected life for the rest of his days. In addition to his clerical duties, he continued his astronomical research and medical practice.
From 1513, the foundation of his great work was laid down at Frauenburg, where he began work on his heliocentric theory. His theory was a concise description of the world’s heliocentric mechanism, without mathematical apparatus, and varyied in some important aspects of geometric construction from De revolutionibus; but it was already based on the same assumptions regarding Earth’s triple motions.
He wrote a manuscript explaining his new theory which was read by many astronomers, and rumors of Copernicus’ claim that the earth revolves about the sun spread all through Europe. His theory attracted many mathematicians and various astronomers who came to Copernicus to learn more about his new theory. One of them, Rheticus, even published a book unfolding this theory in 1540. Even though Copernicus finished writing his book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, about a decade earlier, in 1530, he postponed its publication fearing the reactions his ground-breaking theory might stir up.
However, he finally published his book in 1543, the same year he died. His book is considered to serve the beginning of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the scientific revolution.