Nicolas Copernicus - the man who stopped the Sun and moved the Earth

By Zbigniew Kozioł

Nicolas Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik, in Polish) passed away at Frombork on May 21, 1543. He is considered to be the founder of modern astronomy. His great life is characteristic of the Renaissance times in which he lived, times of great cultural change across the entire European continent and the golden age of Poland as well.

Mikołaj Kopernik was born in Toruń, Poland, on February 19, 1473. Ten years later, his father passed away, and his uncle, Łukasz Watzenrode, Bishop of Warmia, took care of the family and young Mikołaj.

In 1491 Mikołaj began attending the Jagiellonian University in Krakow - one of the first modern universities in Europe, founded in 1397 by Saint Hedwig, Queen of Poland. After completing studies in mathematics and optics, Mikołaj studied Canon law in Bologna, Italy - the heart of the Renaissance. There, he became gradually more and more interested in astronomy through reading the ancient works of Ptolemy and others. After Bologna, he began the study of medicine at Padua while continuing to study law. He was awarded a Doctor of Canon law degree at Ferrara and received a license to practice medicine.

After returning to Poland, he devoted the rest of his life to performing public duties at the highest administrative positions in Lidzbark Warminski, Frombork, Olsztyn, with years spent on travels across Warmia.

In 1513, he drafted a proposal for the reform of the calendar and sent it to Rome. In 1519, he drew up a map of the western part of the Vistula delta. That same year, he completed the first draft of his treatise on the minting of money. In 1520, he organized the defense of Olsztyn against the Teutonic Knights.

While taking part in these administrative and political activities, Kopernik worked on astronomy. In Frombork, he purchased a house suitable for his astronomical observations and built an observation platform for his astronomical instruments.

His revolutionary treatise, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, was published in Nuremberg in 1543 - the year he died.

Kopernik's new view of the universe had an essential impact on the work of Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno, and Johannes Kepler. Opposition to the Copernican system was first raised by Protestant theologians and later on, to a lesser extent, by the Catholic Church. After some insignificant corrections to the text of the treatise, the Catholic Church permitted the reading of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in 1620. By the late 17th century, after the work of Sir Isaac Newton became known, most major scientists across Europe were Copernicans.

In America today, the work of Mikołaj Kopernik is being actively popularized by the Kopernik Astronomical Society and the Space Education Center, located near Binghamton, New York. The Space Education Center is a science lab complex designed for educators, young people and families. The facilities include three astronomical observatories and several science laboratories. Visit their web site at http://www.kopernik.org !