Nicholaus Copernicus: Accomplishments, Facts & Theory

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  • 0:00 Nicholaus Copernicus
  • 0:28 Early Life and Education
  • 1:30 Finding the Center
  • 3:05 The Heliocentric Theory
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the life and accomplishments of Renaissance astronomer Nicholaus Copernicus, and test your understanding of Copernicus' works and influence on modern astronomy.

Nicholaus Copernicus

Ever feel like you are the center of the universe? Well, you're not. And, you can thank Copernicus for that.

Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a Polish mathematician and astronomer who developed a theory for the universe that placed the Sun at the center, rather than the Earth. The influence of this discovery was so profound that the new wave of astronomy that followed has been termed the Copernican Revolution.

Early Life and Education

Copernicus was the youngest of four children, born to a wealthy merchant family in 1473. Copernicus lived during the Renaissance, an era from roughly 1300-1600 and characterized by a passion for the arts, new love of learning, religious fervor, and a zeal for scientific discovery. He was well-educated, making it to the University of Krakow in 1491, and studied math, astronomy, philosophy, and science. By all accounts, he was very intelligent and could speak Latin, German, Polish, Greek, and Italian. He later moved to Bologna University in 1497 and became a doctor of law.

Copernicus met the famous astronomer Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara and started his own astronomy work. He verified the early Greek mathematician Ptolemy's formulas for charting the movement of the moon and lectured on using mathematical solutions to solve problems of astronomy. He also published poetry and argued for the revival of ancient Greek literature.

Finding the Center

Copernicus, now 30, moved back to Poland to work on a project that had been bothering him - the theory that Earth was the center of the universe. His own theory, called the heliocentric view of space, suggested that the sun is the center of the universe. Around 1514, Copernicus published a 40-page outline of his theory. He kept writing and researching, and around 1532 had almost finished On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, but he was reluctant to publish it. It is possible he was nervous about the theory offending the very powerful religious leaders of the Renaissance, who were amongst those who believed Earth to be the center of the universe.

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