Even someone disconnected with the world of astronomy would have heard about Nicolaus Copernicus, or Copernicus as he is remembered till date. Best known for his work on the heliocentric model of the universe that placed the Sun at the centre, rather than the Earth, Copernicus was born to this day, back in 1473. It is on his 540th birthday that the Google homepage is adorned with a fitting doodle, celebrating Copernicus' heliocentric model.
The doodle is an animated one, with the planets circling the Sun, i.e. at the centre. The words Google are etched at the base of the circle.
Doodle honors Copernicus' heliocentric theory
Copernicus believed that there was no one centre of the celestial cirlces or spheres. Importantly, the centre of the Earth was not the centre of the universe, but of gravity and of the lunar sphere. The Sun is the centre of the universe and all planets revolve around the Sun. Copernicus believed that the ratio of the earth's distance from the sun to the height for the firmament was smaller than the ratio of the earth's radius to its distance from the sun, so much that the distance between the earth and sun seemed “imperceptible in comparison with the height of the firmament”.
Interestingly, Copernicus' De revolutionibus was divided into six parts, called “books”:
- Presenting the general vision of the heliocentric theory, and a summary of the exposition of his idea of the World
- Contained mainly theoretical, bringing the principles of spherical astronomy and a list of stars (as a basis for the arguments developed in the subsequent books)
- Mainly dedicated to the apparent motions of the Sun and to related phenomena
- Description of the Moon and its orbital motions
- Offering the “exposition of the motions in longitude of the non-terrestrial planets
- Exposition of the motions in latitude of the non-terrestrial planets”
As many would know now, rumours about Copernicus' theory reached educated people all over Europe. He even delayed the publication of his book, probably fearing criticism.
In his lifetime, Copernicus donned many hats, that of a mathematician, astronomer, jurist with a doctorate in law, physician, quadrilingual polyglot, classics scholar, translator, artist, Catholic cleric, governor, diplomat and economist.
He was born in Thorn, in the province of Royal Prussia, in the Kingdom of Poland to a merchant from Krakow and the daughter of a wealthy Thorn merchant. Copernicus' major work was published in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), the same year as his death in 1543, though he had arrived at his theory several decades earlier.
He breathed his last in Frombork on 24 May 1543, after suffering from apoplexy and paralysis, at the age of 70.