- NAME: Nicolaus Copernicus
- OCCUPATION: Mathematician, Astronomer
- BIRTH DATE: February 19, 1473
- DEATH DATE: May 24, 1543
- EDUCATION: University of Cracow, University of Bologna, University of Padua, University of Ferrara
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Torun, Poland
- PLACE OF DEATH: Frauenburg, Poland
- Full Name: Nicolaus Copernicus
- AKA: Copernicus
Best Known For
Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus identified the concept of a heliocentric solar system, in which the sun, rather than the earth, is the center of the solar system.
Beneath the marble floor of Frombork Church in northeastern Poland, local legend believes that the body of famed astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, the man who formulated the model with the sun at the center of the solar system, is buried.
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Copernicus remained at the Lidzbark-Warminski residence for the next seven years, working and tending to his elderly, ailing uncle, and exploring astronomy whenever he could find the time.
In 1510, Copernicus moved to a residence in the Frombork Cathedral Chapter in hopes of clearing additional time to study astronomy. He would live there as a canon for the duration of his life.
Throughout the seven years he spent in Lidzbark-Warminski, Copernicus read several books on the subject of astronomy. Among the sources that Copernicus consulted was Regiomontus's Epitome of the Almagest, which presented an alternative to astrologist Claudius Ptolemy's model of the universe, and significantly influenced his research.
By 1508, Copernicus had begun developing his own celestial model, a heliocentric planetary system. Ptolemy had previously invented a geometric planetary model, which was inconsistent with Aristotle's idea that celestial bodies moved in a circular motion at different speeds around a fixed point, the earth. In an attempt to reconcile such inconsistencies, Copernicus's heliocentric solar system named the sun, rather than the earth, as the center of the solar system. Subsequently, Copernicus believed that the size of each planet's orbit depended on its distance from the sun.
Though his theory was viewed as revolutionary and met with some controversy, Copernicus was not the first astronomer to propose such a theory; centuries prior, in 270 B.C., ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos had identified the sun as the solar system's central unit. Aristarchus's ideas were quickly dismissed, however, because Ptolemy's theories were far more eagerly accepted by the influential Roman Catholic Church, which adamantly supported the earth-based solar system theory. Still, Copernicus's heliocentric solar system proved to be more detailed and accurate than Aristarchus's, including a more efficient formula for calculating planetary positions throughout the year.
After moving to the Frombork Cathedral Chapter in the early 1500s, Copernicus further developed his heliocentric model, and went on to design and apply a complex mathematical system for proving his theory. In 1513, his dedication prompted him to build his own modest observatory so that he could view the planets in action at any given time.
Copernicus's observations did, at times, lead him to form inaccurate conclusions, including his assumption that planets' orbit occurred in perfect circles. As German astronomer Johannes Kepler would later prove in the 17th century, planetary orbits are actually elliptical in shape.
Around 1514, Copernicus completed a written work, Commentariolus (Latin for "Small Commentary"), a 40-page manuscript that he referred to as the "Sketch of Hypothesis Made by Nicolaus Copernicus on the Heavenly Motions." Commentariolus summarized Copernicus's heliocentric planetary system and strove to provide systematic proof—in the form of both astronomical observations and mathematical formulas—of the model.
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