Essay, Research Paper: Heliocentrism


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The impact of the Heliocentric Theory Heliocentric: Relating to the sun as a
center; appearing as if seen from the sun's center.(Webster,447) The
heliocentric theory was first introduced to the world by a Polish astronomer
named Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus published his views on the heliocentric
theory in his book Commentariolus, in 1514, which sparked the time period now
known as the Copernican Revolution. Heliocentrism was proven true by the
discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton; through their efforts to prove the
validity of the heliocentric theory people began to find truth in science
through experimentation rather than religion with no proof. Many scientists went
through great ordeals for their scientific beliefs, thus making the heliocentric
theory the most electrifying idea in human history. Ancient people's believed in
Gods and deities for causes to nature and the unexplained. Once the fourth
century BC rolled around, people began to see "astronomical phenomena"
as "natural compound products of simple operations repeated in
perpetuity" rather than the actions of Gods. (Morphet, p.6) Greeks did not
revere celestial bodies very strongly in their religion, despite having deities
for the Sun and Moon. (North, p.78) Different peoples beliefs varied greatly in
ancient times. Different countries progressed in thought at different speeds.
During the Renaissance, many began to "toss aside medieval preoccupations
with supernatural forces and turned to secular concerns" like fame. (Yamasaki,
p.50) With the "Age of Discovery," people began to think for
themselves and ponder truths through philosophy, science, astronomy, astrology,
etc. Philosophers' minds began to turn, the human mind was finally awake. Plato,
a famous Greek philosopher, believed stars were Gods that the creator gave life
to. This view was very influential and proved to be sort of a religion for
intellectual idealists, no longer for the populace. At the time, the thought of
heavenly bodies being divine, and stars being eternal objects in unchanging
motion were common knowledge. Thinking otherwise was considered Atheistic.
(North, p.78) Fellow famous Renaissance man, and Plato's pupil, Aristotle, was
also a very important figure. Born in Stagira in 384, Aristotle is regarded as
the most influential ancient philosopher of the sciences. Aristotle refined
Callippus' geometrical and spherical concepts, and developed the geocentric
theory, which was believed for two thousand years. (North, p.80) Aristotle
believed that the sphere is the most perfect figure because when rotated to any
diameter it occupies the same space; and that circular motions are a sign of
perfection, which is why Heaven is considered divine. The spherical nature of
the Earth and Universe according to Aristotle, is the natural movement of
Earthly matter from all places downwards, to a center, around which a sphere of
matter will build up. "Only circular motion is capable of endless
repetition without a reversal of direction, and rotary motion is prior to linear
because what is external, or at least could have always existed, is prior, or at
least potentially prior, to what is not." In Aristotle's book De Caelo (On
the Heavens), he speaks of the celestial sphere, the Earth's center being the
same shape, and dismissing the idea of the Earth rotating at the center of the
universe. He also dismisses the idea of an orbital motion of the Earth. (North,
p.81) Contradicting Aristotle, Heracleides, an astronomer, believed in the
rotation of the Earth on it's axis and is known to be the earliest astronomer to
stand by it. He was thought to have taken the first step in "Copernicanism."
It is believed in the years to follow that Copernicus was said to have mentioned
Heracleides' name in this connection. (North, p.85) Aristarchus of Samos was the
first astronomer to clearly put forth a true sun-centered theory, learned from
Archimedes. (North, p.85) "...Aristarchus' hypotheses are that the fixed
stars and the Sun are stationary, that the Earth is carried in a circular orbit
around the Sun, which lies in the middle of it's orbit, and that the spheres of
fixed stars, having the same center as the Sun, is so great in extent that the
circle on which the Earth is supposedly carried is in the same ratio to the
distance of the sphere has to its surface." (North, p.85-6) If Aristarchus
did believe in heliocentrism, he still could not prove the differences in the
Earth's motion and seasons, which explains its failure to be accepted. (North,
p.86-7) Although scientists such as Eudoxus, Callippus, and Aristotle all came
up with Earth-centered systems based by providing a center for all motions,
Ptolemy was triumphant for he was able to explain sphere sizes and achieved a
single system, which was not done by the others. "When Ptolemy achieved a
single system, the sizes of the shells accommodating maximum and minimum
planetary distances were settled on the principle that there must be no void, no
wasted space, between them." (North, p.285) His misconception was he
believed that if the Earth was not fixed entirely, it would shatter, even though
Copernicus reveals that planets' distances from Earth and motions vary, and that
the Earth endlessly repeats in motion. (North, p.286) Despite the Catholic
Church adopting Ptolemy's and Aristotle's beliefs of geocentrism, those theories
did not correspond to the astronomical observations of the time. (Yamasaki,
p.50) The Copernican Revolution began during the European Renaissance and was
named after Nicolaus Copernicus. (Morphet, p.4) "...this period saw
elements of a modern scientific outlook extend its boundaries into areas of
enquiry where observation and measurement had hitherto been less important than
philosophical speculation and a priori reasoning." (Morphet, p.4-5)
"...although the Copernican heliocentric theory dealt directly with the
structure of the solar system, its indirect consequences embraced the whole
fabric of thought, inaugurating a breakthrough in people's outlook on the world.
Copernicus liberated the human mind, which had been fettered up to his day by
traditional conventions, and he opposed the basing of science solely on sensory
experiences. Taking a stand against the entire world of that time and against
the supreme authority that he recognized—the church and the Holy Scripture,
against the views consolidated and sanctified by the knowledge of scholars of
many previous centuries—he instilled into the minds of men boldness in
thinking, but he also taught them humility in the quest for truth. Copernicus'
science of the stars is also a science of man and his place on an Earth which is
spinning through the universe." (Adamczewski, p. 156-7) Copernicus
published the first outline on heliocentrism in his book Commentary on the
Hypothesis of the Movement of Celestial Orbs, in 1514. It was the first of its
kind, without all of the mathematics. (Adamczewski, p.114) The Copernican theory
explained the Earth-Sun line and gave a more plausible reason as to why the
Sun's role is important in the motions of the Moon and planets in the solar
system when compared to Ptolemy's. "By introducing the Sun into the theory
of motion of every planet, Copernicus made it possible to represent all in a
single system." (North, p.285) The heliocentric system presented the
planets positions more logically, going around or below the Sun. It also
explained the relative sizes of the planet's retrograde arcs and why
outer-stellar planets are brightest in opposition. (North, p.287) Society's
reaction to the heliocentric system was not a favorable one. Many people thought
"Who would dare to place Copernicus' authority higher than the Holy
Scripture?" (Adamczewski, p.148) Believing that the Earth rotates on its
axis, planets revolve around the Sun, and planetary orbits were elliptical due
to the force of gravity was then thought of as inconceivable. (Morphet, p.4)
Copernicus was passionately criticized by colleagues and peers for his
enthusiasm of the ancient philosophers, who were viewed as incorrect. (Adamczewski,
p.141) The only point that Copernicus was trying to makes was that
"...there does not exist any common center for all the celestial orbs or
spheres; the center of the Earth is not the center of the universe; but only the
center of gravity and the center of the Moon's path; all the planets revolve
around the Sun, which is the center." (Adamczewski, p.115) As a result of
the bad reaction towards Copernicus' views, he hesitated from publishing his
famous book De Revolutionibus. Copernicus claims that "apprehension of the
derision which I had to fear because of the hard-to- understand novelty of my
theory." (Adamczewski, p.144) Prior to the March 21, 1543 publication of De
Revolutionibus, a falsifier of Copernicus' work, Andreas Osiander, added his own
foreword to the book saying that it was " a fictitious scheme for
calculations," just an hypothesis. Osiander also had the audacity to change
Copernicus' title to De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. (Adamczewski, p.153-4)
To free himself from heresy, Copernicus dedicated his book to Pope Paul III:
"I am fully aware, Holy Father, that as soon as they hear that in these
volumes of mine about the revolutions of the spheres of the universe I attribute
some sort of motion to the Earth, some persons will immediately raise a cry of
condemnation against me and my theories." (Adamczewski, p.152) Ironically,
Copernicus' forward in De Revolutionibus states that "...Copernicus'
conveys to his contemporaries and to generations to come his new ideas which
were to prove to be so dangerous to the order then extant." (Adamczewski,
p.137) Little did he know how true his words were. De Revolutionibus consists of
six volumes: 1)General survey of Copernicus' system, and plane and spherical
triangles. 2)Spherical astronomy. 3)The precession and motion of the Earth.
4)The Moon. 5)Planets in longitude. 6)Planets in latitude. (North, p.285-6)
Despite Copernicus' book being six volumes it is still similar to Ptolemy's
book, Almagest. (North, p.286) The Church did not take any definite stand with
Copernicus' book—since it was dedicated to the Pope and thought of only as an
"hypothesis" due to the false forward by Osiander—until the
Reformation and scientific discoveries like Galileo's, was it seen as a threat
to the power of the Church. (Adamczewski, p.158) In 1620, Cardinal of St.
Cecilia and Bishop Albano, the Secretary of the Congregation placed Copernicus'
book on the Index of Prohibited Books, which resulted in Orthodox Catholics not
being allowed to read it for two centuries. (Adamczewski, p.159) The Age of
Discovery was not a safe time for any "scientific novelties" which
were in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Any contradiction to the Holy
Scripture were "subject to judgement by the Inquisition." The
Inquisito Haereticae Pravitatis, Sanctum Officium was established in 1215. It's
mission was to "combat all views and trends which were considered heretical
and anti-church. All opposers were to face the dungeon, torture, and burning at
the stake. The onset of the Reformation weakened the Inquisition, but only for a
short time until the Church began to fight against it. Victims were adherents of
heretical views, suspects of blasphemy and sacrilege, mainly scholars whose
views and beliefs did not conform with the dogmas of the Church. (Adamczewski,
p.157) Reactions towards Copernicus' views and theories had "aroused mush
opposition and downright hostility" due to the inability of some to
comprehend Copernicus. They were too "accustomed to hard-and-fast
schemas" which was accepted worldly then, written in the Holy Scripture,
deemed as "immutable." (Adamczewski, p.147) This resulted in
Copernicus' last years being dismal and De Revolutionibus "lain well
hidden." (Adamczewski, p.148-50) Nicolaus Copernicus died in Frombork on
May 24th, 1543. He was seventy years old and all that is know of his final years
are hidden in the shadows of Frombork Castle. (Adamczewski, p.154) Nicolaus
Copernicus was seen as "...the man who set the Earth in motion."
(North, p.285) "No Genghis Khan, no Napoleon, no emperor nor pope, has had
a more radical influence on the history of mankind than Nicolaus
Copernicus." (Adamczewski, p.7) "Of all the discoveries and opinions
proclaimed nothing surely had made such a deep impression on the human mind as
the science of Copernicus." (Adamczewski, p. 157) Giordano Bruno, who also
suffered from the Inquisition for his scientific views as did Galileo, had said
that "Copernicus had not only moved the Earth but also set in motion the
minds of men." (Adamczewski, p.161) "The Copernican Revolution
consisted in overcoming the view which had enormous prestige sanctified by
centuries of acceptance as scientific knowledge, in taking up the old idea of
the heliocentric system, in creating for this Inquisition as ful and rigorous a
scientific foundation as was possible with the framework of the time...Accepting
a threefold motion of the Earth and placing it in the row of planets, of moving
heavenly bodies, Copernicus constructed a new heliocentric models of the world
and laid the foundation for a new vision of the universe." (Adamczewski,
p.156) It did not end there. Three men would later come along to consolidate the
Copernican heliocentric system: Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac
Newton. (Adamczewski, p.158) The key figure in the battle to have the new
astronomy accepted by the Church was Galileo Galilei. He "campaigned to
reconcile" the Copernican theory with Christianity, which resulted in a
program defined by Galileo to separate science and faith. (Morphet, p.5) Galileo
Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy, in 1564. Galileo is most known for having
invented the telescope, an instrument he would later use to find evidence to
defend the heliocentric theory. A very opinionated and questioning man for his
time, Galileo became unpopular for challenging ancient beliefs and believing in
the Copernican theory. After he had learned of Hans Lippershey, a Dutch
eyeglass-maker, inventing a spyglass, Galileo got himself one and altered it
making the first telescope. He was now able to see thirty-three times farther
into the sky. Despite the evidence Galileo was able to show to back up his
discoveries, people still refused to believe him. Their ignorance and loyalty to
the old Aristotelian ways was the problem. Through his telescope Galileo saw
features if the Moon and endless amounts of stars, but people just thought that
he was being tricked by the Moon. In 1610, Galileo published his discoveries in
a book called Starry Messenger. One of his discoveries being that of Jupiter
having four Moons! Wow. It was translated and sold all over the world. By the
end of that year, he had discovered that Jupiter also had rings, but most
importantly he discovered that the Sun was the center of the solar system
because the sunlight on the other planets move across like here on Earth. He now
had the proof to defend the Copernican heliocentric theory, but would people
believe him? After the 1613 of another book called Letters on Sunspots, Pope
Paul found Galileo's book a threat to the Catholic Church. In 1616, The Pope
denounced the Copernican theory, surprising Galileo. During 1626, a group formed
and plotted to ruin Galileo. They felt that faith was more important than the
truth of the universe. The asked Galileo to renounce his belief in heliocentrism
and his discoveries because the Bible spoke nothing of his discoveries therefore
they thought them false. Despite the evidence Galileo now had to prove the
validity of the heliocentric theory, the Church ordered Galileo to speak of
heliocentrism only as an hypothesis even though it was true. Galileo's third
book, Dialogue on the Two Great Systems of the World, was about the Church and
science. Although it was very popular the Pope banned it feeling it was wrong
and insulting. The Church now saw his book as heresy and ordered Galileo to
appear before the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Now 68 years old and failing
in health, Galileo publicly recanted and admitted his crimes in order to save
his life. He was not able to escape the wrath of the Inquisition and was
confined to his home for the rest of his life. Seeing that the Inquisition gave
harsher punishments than that, Galileo was glad to receive a light conviction.
Galileo lived to be 78 years old, and died in 1642 due to sickness causing his
to be bedridden his last three years. Through Galileo's experiments and
discoveries he was able to confirm Copernicus theories, further developed
observational astronomy, and with Kepler, prepared the groundwork for Isaac
Newton's discovery of the Law of Universal Gravitation. (Adamczewski, p.158)

BibliographyPrimary North, John. The Norton History of Astronomy ans Cosmology. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company, 1995. Information on the history of astronomy,
cosmology, and the important figures who helped to further develop science.
Quotes and information were used in my report. Adamczewski, Jan. Nicolaus
Copernicus and His Epoch. Washington DC: Copernicus Society of America, 197-. A
biography on Nicolaus Copernicus. Information on Copernicus and quotes were used
in my report. Morphet, Clive. Galileo and Copernican Astronomy: A scientific
world view defined. Boston: Buttherworths, 1977. The influence of Copernicus and
Galileo in the history of science. Information and quotes on these two figures
were used in my report. Silverburg, Robert. Four Men Who Changed the Universe.
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1968. Information on four figures who changed
science: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Brahe. Quotes and facts on all four of
these men were used in my report. "Copernican System." Passages from
De Revolutionibus.
Website containing information on Galileo, and other science-related things
involving Galileo. A picture of Copernicus' heliocentric theory was used to help
with the background information to my report. Secondary Sis, Peter. Starry
Messenger. New York: Frances Foster Books, 1996. A pictorial biography of
Galileo Galilei. Information on his life was used for background information to
my report. Yamasaki, Mitch. The Scientific Revolution in Pre-Modern Europe.
Honolulu, Hawaii: National History Day, 1998. An essay on the Scientific
Revolution sparked by the introduction of heliocentrism. Information on
Copernicus and his influences were used for background information.
"Galileo," Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (c)1993-1995
Microsoft Corp. This CD-ROM contained photos and information on Galileo Galilei.
Facts on Galileo were used for background information in my report.
"Johannes Kepler," Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 98 Encyclopedia.
(c)1993-1997 Microsoft Corp. This CD-ROM article contained general information
on Kepler. Facts on his impact in science were used in my research. People Who
Have Influenced Our Ideas of the Solar System.
This website contained information on key figures in the development of
astronomy. Information on scientists was used in my research.
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