Happy Birthday Nicolaus Copernicus!
Today marks the 540th birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus. This Renaissance man is one of the greatest minds in history, being not only an astronomer, but also a mathematician, jurist, physician, classics scholar, artist, governor, diplomat and economist. Copernicus was also well versed in various languages such as Latin, German, Polish, Greek and Italian, enabling him to work as a translator as well.
Nicolaus Copernicus: Father of Modern Astronomy
His biggest contribution? He debunked the long held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe. For more than a thousand years, people believed the Ptolemy theory of an Earth-centered solar system and that the earth was a stationary planet that did not move. Instead, Copernicus proposed that it was the sun that was at the center of the solar system from which all planets revolved around. Thus was born the heliocentric model in astronomy. This also made Nicolaus Copernicus the Father of Modern Astronomy.
What makes the work of Copernicus even more astounding is that he did it all through observation. He noted the movement of the heavens without the aid of a telescope, which Galileo was able to do more than five decades after Copernicus’ time. The Renaissance man was also the first to deduce that the earth rotated on its axis on a daily basis. It would be decades later that other astronomers would be able to prove Copernicus’ theories to be true.
The Copernican Revolution
Scientific minds consider his book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres or De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, as a major scientific work because it triggered the start of the Copernican Revolution. This in turn led to the development of the Scientific Revolution. This view was vastly different from the Aristotelian belief.
Copernicus is mostly known to be a man of science, but his great mind knew no bounds. He did an extensive study on the value of money, wherein he was able to derive an early version of what is now known as Gresham’s Law as well as the quantity theory of money. During his time, Copernicus was able to contribute to monetary reforms that helped stabilize the currency in Prussia and Poland.
Copernicus was born in Torun in what was then known as Royal Prussia, in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland to well-to do parents since his father was a successful merchant while his mother was for a wealthy family. The youngest of four children, Copernicus focused his energies on his studies and never married or had a family of his own.
It is said that the day he received a copy of his book De revolutionibus was also the day that he passed away. He died at the ripe old age of 70 in Frombork, in the Kingdom of Poland in 1543.