Episode Twenty-Six of Stories from Space, “The Copernican Revolution,” is Now Live
This week’s episode focuses on the life and times of Nicolaus Copernicus, the famed Renaissance Polish astronomer who proposed the heliocentric model of the Universe. The details of this model were presented in his magnum opus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which Copernicus had published in 1543 when he was on his deathbed. While Copernicus is a household name and the basics of his model are well-known, the story of how he came to his grand realization is less well-known.
The heliocentric model was inspired by thousands of years of observations and calculations by astronomers. These included several pre-Socratic Greek philosophers that were lost to Europeans (but preserved by Muslim scholars) and scholars from West Asia, Iran, India, and Al-Andalus (Spain before the Reconquista). These sources contradicted the prevailing models of Aristotle and Ptolemy, both of whom were considered canon in Europe and Eurasia.
By synthesizing these observations with his own calculations, Copernicus showed how Earth and the other planets orbited the Sun, how the Moon orbited Earth, and how Earth rotated. In short, he synthesized and crystallized one of the most profound scientific discoveries ever made, one that was thousands of years in the making. And in so doing, he forever revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos and our place in it.
In fact, his observation that the Sun was NOT at the center of the Universe began a long process where humans began to realize that neither they nor Earth were unique in the cosmos. As Sagan put it: “One of the distinctions and triumphs of the advance of science has been the deprovincialization of our worldview.” Because of Copernicus’s role in this, the scientific axiom that states that humanity is NOT in a special or privileged position to view the cosmos is known as the Copernican Principle.
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Originally published at http://storiesbywilliams.com on January 29, 2023.