Kepler's Role in the Scientific Revolution

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  • 1:30 The Scientific Revolution
  • 2:43 Major Contributions
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the role Johannes Kepler played in the Scientific Revolution. We will identify his major contributions and learn why he was important.

Who Was Johannes Kepler?

Imagine a young boy sitting on top of a hill, watching a comet streak through the night sky. Surely, that would be a memorable moment for just about anyone. When I was a child, I saw Halley's Comet pass by Earth, and it is something I remember vividly to this day. When Johannes Kepler was a young boy, he witnessed the Great Comet of 1577, and it inspired him to spend the rest of his life studying the heavens.

So who was this guy? Johannes Kepler was a leading astronomer of the Scientific Revolution known for formulating the Laws of Planetary Motion. An astronomer, of course, is a person who studies the Sun, stars, planets and other aspects of space. Kepler was German and lived between 1571 and 1630. Like many scientists of this time, Kepler also taught mathematics. He served as an assistant to another famous astronomer named Tycho Brahe, and he even provided his expertise to Emperor Rudolf II. Kepler's ideas about astronomy proved to be very influential. His ideas helped influence Isaac Newton and many other leaders of the Scientific Revolution.

Astrology, Astronomy and the Scientific Revolution

As we know, the Scientific Revolution is the term used to describe the emergence of modern science that took place throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Before the Scientific Revolution, astronomy was closely tied to astrology. Astrology is the belief that the movement of the stars and planets can be interpreted to predict the future. This might sound silly to us, but for thousands of years this was an accepted practice.

In Kepler's time, many people still had strange ideas and superstitions about space. Kepler himself believed in astrology (which might surprise us, but we have to remember, this was still common in his day). However, Kepler's research, and the research of others who followed him, eventually led to astronomy and astrology being separated. As the Scientific Revolution progressed, astrology increasingly came to be viewed as a false science, while astronomy was regarded as a modern, legitimate science.

Major Contributions

So, as I mentioned in the introduction, Kepler's major contribution was his formulation of the Laws of Planetary Motion. The Laws of Planetary Motion consist of three separate laws, which explain the basics of how the planets revolve around the Sun. In the first law, Kepler described the orbit of the planets as elliptical, or occurring in ellipses. An ellipse is basically an elongated circle. The second and third laws are a little more complex and involve mathematical equations. Basically, they describe, in mathematical language, the relationship between the Sun, the planets and their orbits.

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