Nicolaus Copernicus

Sparking the Scientific Revolution

The Early Life of Copernicus...

Copernicus was born on February, 19, 1473, in Thorn, which is modern-day Torun, Poland. He was the youngest of four kids. Copernicus's dad, who was a copper merchant, died when Copernicus was around ten years old. In 1489, Copernicus was taken in by his uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, who was the bishop of Ermeland, also known as Warmia, Poland.

Some Info on Warmia...

  • Warmia, also known as Ermeland is part of Poland. It was a part of the territory of the Knights of Teutonic Order .
  • In 1243, four episcopates (an episcopate is a collective body of all of the bishops of a church) were appropriated in Prussia, among the Warmia episcopate.*
*During this process, the Bishop of Warmia received 1/3 of it's territory for his wage
  • 1466-1772, Warmia was incorporated into The Polish Crown Territories
  • In 1497, Copernicus was admitted to The Canonic Warmia Chapter
  • In Copernicus's first years here, he lived in the Bishop's palace, which was in Heilsberg, as a personal secretary and doctor for the Bishop
  • Copernicus participated in the political lifer with his uncle. He attended to the congresses of Royal Prussia's states, which were: Malbork, Elblag and Torun
(Picture above is of Lucas Watzenrode, Copernicus's uncle and Bishop of Warmia)

The Achievements of Copernicus

Achievement One: A Theory Proposing A Heliocentric Solar System

Copernicus's main achievement that he is known for is his theory of a heliocentric solar system. Before, people thought that the solar system was geocentric- that the planets and sun revolved around the Earth. Copernicus questioned this, and thought that the planets revolved around the sun. This was a big achievement. He also proposed that the sun rotates on an axis in addition to revolving the sun.

Achievement Two: "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium"

Another achievement of his was his book, "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" also known as "De Revolutionibus" also known as "On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres", where he not only wrote about the theories previously mentioned, but others. His theories include, but are not limited to:

  • The Earth is spherical
  • Land and water both have a single center of gravity
  • The planets orbit the sun in circular orbits (although this theory was incorrect, he was right about a lot of other things)
  • Day and Night are caused by a rotation of the Earth
  • The Earth has three motions:
1) The rotation that causes day and night

2)The yearly motion of the center- moving west to east in order of the zodiacal signs

3) The revolution of the Earth around the sun

Copernicus didn't actually get to see the final published version of his book until he was laying on his deathbed. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Click here to Read a Copy of "De Revolutionibus"

This copy has been typed out and translated to English, if you're curious what the exact words of this text are.

A Look at the First Edition "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium"

Achievement Three: Creating a System Combining Physics, Atsronomy and Mathematics

Achievement Four: Helping People Access Water

During the epidemics of 1519, Copernicus provided lots of Warmian and Pomeranian towns with an innovative water supply system to employ sanitary preventative measures

Achievement Five: Helping His Town With a Massive Task

The Knights of Teutonic Order- they pretty much just wanted the Catholic church's money and land.The citizens of Warmia were under the rule of the king of Poland, and The Teutonic Knights were under the order of the Emperor. In 1519, they swept the land where Copernicus lived. When it was obvious that they were on their way for Frombork, Copernicus wrote King Sigismund, saying:

"We ourselves are not sufficiently safeguarded to attack and we fear lest the enemy, who is already so near, should beseige us also... Therefore, we humbly appeal to your Holy Majesty to... come to our aid as soon as possible to support us. For we are completely devoted to Your Majesty, even if we are to perish"

However, his letter was intercepted by the knights- it never reached the king.

The Knights of Teutonic Order attacked and burned big chunks of the city. They also took big tracts of land from the chapter. A few months later, after peace was declared, Copernicus helped negotiate the return of the lands to the church and helped rebuild Frombork.

Click here for some more info on his achievements

This website has a lot of them. It's pretty neat.

But How Did he Impact OUR World?

Before Copernicus, people believed that the whole solar system revolved around us- on Earth. They put the Earth right in the center of the solar system, with everything else- including the sun- revolving around us. In the picture on the right is what our solar system would look like if it were geocentric- weird, right? The Earth goes around the sun. That is just common knowledge for us, because of Copernicus. He was the one to propose, and write a lot in "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" about it, too. Now, we know how our solar system is really set up- and he was the one that got the whole idea going!

Something Else to Think About...

In the geocentric model above, the Earth isn't tilted on an axis! Sure, if we were geocentric, the sun would go around us, but how fast? Would that cause day or night, or would that give us years? We would have one or another, but not both- or would we calculate years someway other than revolution? And, without an axis that is being tilted on, how would we have seasons? We wouldn't! The whole idea of our system being geocentric seems so weird- yet so many people believed in it.

Another Impact...

The Start of the Scientific Revolution

Copernicus's writing down his beliefs was considered by many to be the beginning of the scientific revolution. This book led to so many astronomical breakthroughs. It really got people going. Some even improved what Copernicus had started- Kepler for example. He taught us, in his first law of planetary motion, that all of the planets travel in ellipses rather than circles. A lot of scientists kind of picked up where he left off, or piggybacked off of his ideas to get more. This is the start of the scientific revolution that led to our common knowledge today.

Fun Facts

  • Copernicus went to a whole lot of schools! He attended St. John's Church in Poland, which was a parochial (relating to church) school. Then, he attended the Krakow Academy, also known as The Jagiellonian University (picture on the right). Later on, he went to Italy. Here he studied law, medicine, astronomy and math! In 1496, he started to study law at Bologne. Then he studied medicine at Padua
  • Copernicus wasn't just an astronomer- he was also a personal physician! At first, he was a doctor for his uncle, but after is uncle died in 1512, Copernicus went on to be a personal physician to four Warmian Bishops. He even went further than diagnosing and taking care of his patients- he personally prepared the drugs they were prescribed with
  • On top of his jobs as an astronomer and physician, he was also a mathematician, engineer, soldier, writer and economist! He did a lot

Another Link...

"On The Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres"

The following video explains what was written about in Copernicus's book "On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres" AKA "De Revolutionibus". It also has some general information about Copernicus.

Some Copernicus Quotes...

"For when a ship is floating calmly along, the sailors see its motion mirrored in everything outside, while on the other hand they suppose that they are stationary, together with everything on board. In the same way, the motion of the earth can unquestionably produce the impression that the entire universe is rotating."

"The strongest affection and utmost zeal should, I think, promote the studies concerned with the most beautiful objects. This is the discipline that deals with the universe's divine revolutions, the stars' motions, sizes, distances, risings and settings . . . for what is more beautiful than heaven?"

"Accordingly, since nothing prevents the earth from moving, I suggest that we should now consider also whether several motions suit it, so that it can be regarded as one of the planets. For, it is not the center of all the revolutions."

"For I am not so enamored of my own opinions that I disregard what others may think of them."

"For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions through careful and expert study."

"I CAN easily conceive, most Holy Father, that as soon as some people learn that in this book which I have written concerning the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, I ascribe certain motions to the Earth, they will cry out at once that I and my theory should be rejected."

"Moreover, since the sun remains stationary, whatever appears as a motion of the sun is really due rather to the motion of the Earth."

"The massive bulk of the Earth does indeed shrink to insignificance in comparison with the size of the heavens."

"Therefore, when I considered this carefully, the contempt which I had to fear because of the novelty and apparent absurdity of my view nearly induced me to abandon utterly the work I had begun."

"Those things which I am saying now may be obscure, yet they will be made clearer in their proper place."

"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge."

"Perhaps there will be babblers who, although completely ignorant of mathematics, nevertheless take it upon themselves to pass judgment on mathematical questions and, badly distorting some passages of Scripture to their purpose, will dare find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent as despising their criticism as unfounded."


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