From ancient times onwards, astronomical research was based on the Ptolemaic theory, which claimed that the earth was static and stood at the center of the cosmos. Copernicus was the first astronomer to present an astronomical theory suggesting that the earth and the rest of the planets circle the sun. This hypothesis was named the heliocentric theory. These changes in astronomical thought were the catalysts for the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, which is sometimes known as the Copernican revolution.
Copernicus was a Renaissance intellectual and clergyman who was involved in a variety of different areas. He held doctorates in medicine and law. He was an astronomer who studied Greek philosophy, mainly Platonic, and was involved in the translation of books from ancient Greek into Latin.
Copernicus was born in Torun in Poland. In 1491, he began his studies at the famous university in Cracow. In 1497 he resumed his studies, this time in Italy, where he attended a number of universities - Bologna, Padua and Ferrara. There he received his double doctorate (in medicine and law). Through his meetings with Italian astronomers, Copernicus extended his astronomical knowledge. After six years of study, Copernicus returned to Poland in the year 1503 where he served as a canon of the cathedral of Frauenberg. In addition to his clerical duties, he continued his astronomical research and medical practice.
It seems that Copernicus became convinced of the sun's location in the middle of the cosmos already during his stay in Italy. After returning to Poland he wrote a manuscript explaining his new theory. The manuscript was read by many astronomers, and rumors of Copernicus' claim that the earth revolves about the sun spread throughout Europe. Mathematicians and astronomers came to Copernicus in order to learn about his new theory. One of them, Rheticus, published a book describing this theory in 1540. Although Copernicus completed writing his book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, about a decade earlier, in 1530, it seems he feared the reactions his revolutionary theory might evoke and therefore postponed its publication. It is possible that the publication of a book describing his theory and his impending death were factors which eventually motivated him to publish his book in 1543. The book's publisher added a cautionary preface which states that the whole theory is no more than a mathematical hypothesis and that the book contains no claim about the real structure of the world. Copernicus himself, however, believed his theory described the world as it is.
(Copernicus' picture is from - Nicholas Copernicus - Minor Works, By - P. Czartoryski. , p.cover)
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