Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus (Torun, current Poland, 1473 - Frauenburg, id., 1543) Polish astronomer. The importance of Copernicus is not reduced to its status as the first formulator of a coherent heliocentric theory: Copernicus was, first of all, the initiator of the scientific revolution that accompanied the European Renaissance and, passing through Galileo, would take a century later, by work of Newton, to the systematization of physics and to a profound change in philosophical and religious convictions. In all fairness, then, this rupture has been called Copernican revolution, of such transcendence that it reached beyond the scope of astronomy and science to mark a milestone in the history of ideas and culture. Born in a rich family of merchants, Nicolaus Copernicus was orphaned at the age of ten and was taken over by his maternal uncle, canon of Frauenburg Cathedral and then bishop of Warmia. In 1491 Copernicus entered the University of Krakow, following the instructions of his uncle and tutor. In 1496 he went to Italy to complete his training in Bologna, where he studied canon law and received the influence of Italian humanism; the study of the classics, revived by this cultural movement, was later decisive in the elaboration of the astronomical work of Copernicus. There is no evidence, however, that at that time he was particularly interested in astronomy; In fact, after studying medicine in Padua, Nicolaus Copernicus received his doctorate in canon law from the University of Ferrara in 1503. That same year he returned to his country, where he had been granted a canonry under the influence of his uncle, and he joined to his episcopal court in the castle of Lidzbark, as his trusted advisor. The bishop died in 1512, Copernicus took up residence in Frauenburg and dedicated himself to the administration of the assets of the town council for the rest of his days; he always maintained the ecclesiastical employment of a canon, but without receiving the sacred orders. He was interested in economic theory, dealing in particular with monetary reform, a subject on which he published a treaty in 1528. He also practiced medicine and cultivated his humanist interests. Towards 1507, Copernicus elaborated his first exhibition of a heliocentric astronomical system in which the Earth orbited around the Sun, in opposition to the traditional Ptolemaic system, in which the movements of all the celestial bodies had as center our planet. A limited series of manuscript copies of the scheme circulated among scholars of astronomy, and as a result Copernicus began to be considered a remarkable astronomer; However, his research was based mainly on the study of the texts and data established by his predecessors, since they barely exceed half a hundred observations that have been recorded throughout his life. In 1513 Copernicus was invited to participate in the reform of the Julian calendar, and in 1533 his teachings were exposed to Pope Clement VII by his secretary; in 1536, Cardinal Schönberg wrote to Copernicus from Rome urging him to make his discoveries public. By then Copernicus had already completed the writing of his great work, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs, an astronomical treatise that defended the heliocentric hypothesis. The text was articulated in accordance with the formal model of Ptolemy's Almagest, from which he retained the traditional idea of ​​a finite and spherical universe, as well as the principle that circular movements were the only ones appropriate to the nature of celestial bodies; but it contained a series of theses that were in contradiction with the old conception of the universe, whose center, for Copernicus, ceased to be coincident with that of the Earth, just as there was not, in its system, a single center common to all movements celestial. Aware of the novelty of his ideas and fearful of the criticisms that could arise to be made public, Copernicus did not get to give the work to the press. Its publication took place thanks to the intervention of a Protestant astronomer, Georg Joachim von Lauchen, known as Rheticus, who visited Copernicus from 1539 to 1541 and convinced him of the need to print the treaty, which he himself undertook. The work appeared a few weeks before the death of its author; it was preceded by an anonymous preface, the work of the editor Andreas Osiander, in which the Copernican system was presented as a hypothesis, as a precautionary measure and against what was Copernicus' conviction. The heliocentric theory. The heliocentric model of Nicolaus Copernicus was a decisive contribution to the science of the Renaissance. The geocentric conception of the universe, theorized by Ptolemy, had prevailed for fourteen centuries: Ptolemy's Almagest was a detailed and systematic development.