Nicolaus Copernicus and his theory about the universe

Today, even kindergarten students know that the Earth and the other planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun. But until just over 400 years ago, it was widely believed that the Earth was the center of the planet. universe and that the Sun and the other planets revolved around it.

The person who formulated the correct theory for the first time was called Nicolaus Copernicus. This scientist was ahead of his time, although the validity and importance of his legacy were not recognized until two centuries after his death.

Nicolaus Copernicus: his life and history

Nicholas Copernicus was a Polish priest and scientist born in 1473. To his studies in Law, Medicine, Greek, Philosophy and Astronomy he added his status as Doctor of Canon Law.

In addition to practicing medicine and holding various ecclesiastical positions, he dedicated most of his life to observing the movements of the heavenly bodies and to astronomy, postulating a set of innovative astronomical theories contrary to the beliefs of the time.

The truth is that Copernicus postponed the publication of his theories about the center of the universe for decades and did not decide to do so until 1543, during the last year of his life.

There is no reliable evidence of the facts that motivated the postponement. The most rational indications are that Copernicus was a notable member of the powerful Church of the time and he knew that he would be in serious trouble if he dared to make his ideas public. And it is that, as the saying goes, at the blacksmith's house, the wooden spoon.

This would explain why he finally decided to publish them at the dawn of his death.

Let us not forget that ecclesiastical science defended, against all odds, that the Earth was the center of the universe and that all the planets revolved around it. And that any contradiction to ecclesial postulates was considered heresy.

In fact, the later case of Galileo Galilei, which we will see later, confirms the assumption that the delay in the publication of his theories was motivated by Copernicus' fear of the Church.

Copernican theory of the universe

Although it is very common to refer to Copernicus' theory on the origin of the universe, the truth is that this reference is not correct.

Copernicus' theory describes how the visible universe was made up at that time, that is, it refers to the spatial arrangement of the celestial bodies whose existence was known and their cyclical movements.

At no point in his writings did Nicolaus Copernicus allude to the origins of the universe, so it is proper to speak of Copernicus' theory of the universe .

At that time, the validity of the geocentric theory, according to which the center of the entire known universe was our planet, was also the point around which they rotated. the other celestial bodies, including the Sun.

For years, Copernicus meticulously studied the visible motions of the planets and stars in the sky. From his studies, calculations and notes he deduced that these physical movements could not be rationally explained by accepting the geocentric model.

The logical rational explanation for the nature of the celestial trajectories studied was that the planets revolved around the Sun.

Hence, Copernican theory is also called heliocentric theory, since the word Sun translates into ancient Greek as Helios.

The only exception was the apparent motion of the stars.Today, we know they don't belong in our solar system, but back then we didn't even know what a solar system was

This is why Copernicus wrongly deduced that stars remain fixed in space.

The Church, Galileo, Copernicus and the center of the universe

More than half a century after the death of Nicolaus Copernicus, the astronomer Galileo Galilei was able to physically verify, through a telescope built by himself , that indeed some planets did not revolve around the Earth but around the Sun.

Those observations validated Copernicus's theory about the universe, and Galileo decided to document his scientific discovery, making public and notorious his strong support for Copernicus and his theory.

The end result of spreading the validity of the Copernican universe was an accusation of heresy in 1633 by the ecclesiastical Inquisition.

Knowing how the Inquisition spent them, Galileo was forced to confess to having committed heresy, in order to get out of the mess alive.

In addition, he had to publicly abjure Copernicus' heliocentric theory and acknowledge that the ecclesiastical geocentric theories were true, stating that all the planets revolved around the Earth.

Galileo Galilei was sentenced by the Inquisition to life imprisonment, but after abjuring his ideas, the sentence was commuted to home confinement for life.

The scientific value of Copernican theories

Today, the Church still avoids acknowledging the injustice of condemning Galileo, on the grounds that Copernicus's theory of the universe was only partially valid and contained many errors.

And it is true that several of his theories were not valid, such as those referring to the circular path of planetary orbits or the immobility of stars. But the truth is that the planets of the solar system revolve around the Sun and not around the Earth.

Despite Copernicus' errors, it was his heliocentric theory, later verified by Galileo, that opened the door to the development of modern astronomy.

And not only that, but the subsequent discoveries of gravitational laws also have their basis in the Copernican theory.

Therefore, the value of the contributions of Nicolaus Copernicus is unquestionable, and even more so if we take into account that were formulated in the middle of the 16th century and contradicting the planetary theories accepted as true at that time.


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