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Polish Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus Born In Torun

Today on February 19, 1474, Nicolaus Copernicus, the Father of Astronomy, was born in Poland.

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in the beautiful and historic city of Torun, north-central Poland. Many regard him as the most famous astronomer and well-known Polish scientist. Copernicus led an impressive career that extended beyond astronomy, making significant contributions as a mathematician, physician, and economist. Born into a wealthy merchant family, he was the youngest of four children. Torun was previously part of western Prussia, so German was his first language — it's likely Copernicus spoke some Polish as well. In 1491, he enrolled in the Krakow Academy, present-day Jagiellonian University. Five years later, he moved to Italy to study law. Copernicus never married or had any children.

While still debated among academics today, most credit Copernicus for igniting the Scientific Revolution, which led to the emergence of modern science. In the field of astrology, he played an instrumental role in establishing the concept of a heliocentric universe. His theory boldly suggested the planets orbited around the sun and not the earth. This new theory was highly contrary to the common beliefs held by his contemporaries. In 1514, Copernicus published 'Commentariolus,' his book that explained the discovery and new celestial model. But his book was swiftly met with opposition. The heliocentric universe directly opposed the teachings of Catholicism. The Bible suggested the earth stood still, and the planets, moons, and suns revolved around it. First written by Plato and Aristotle, the concept of a geocentric universe was adopted for thousands of years.

“To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” — Nicolaus Copernicus

In his second book, 'On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,' he further refined his astrological theories. The book was later banned by the Vatican. Contrary to popular beliefs, Copernicus was not the first to suggest a heliocentric universe. The ancient Greek mathematician Aristarchus of Samos had proposed a similar model. Regardless, it's believed that Copernicus independently formulated his theories. Copernicus later obtained a doctorate in canon law and established the quantity theory of money, which became a key pillar of modern economics. In 1519, he published the economic principle called Gresham's Law, stating that "bad money drives out good money."

Copernicanism caught on slowly across Europe. It wasn't until over half a century later that substantial evidence was released supporting his heliocentric universe. The eventual works of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei would play a critical role in defending and ultimately proving the ideas of Copernicus. In 1687, Isaac Newton released Principa, which outlined gravitational pull and the laws of mechanics. Newton became the first to formally merge terrestrial and celestial mechanics. And, it was only then that the heliocentric universe became generally accepted by the scientific community and broader public.


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