Tycho Brahe and Copernicus Take On the Known Universe

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  • 0:07 Humanism
  • 0:39 Ancient Greeks & The Stars
  • 1:17 Copernicus
  • 2:31 Brahe
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Astronomy according to Ptolemy was the popular theory until Copernicus turned it on its head. This lesson explores the theories of Copernicus and Brahe and how the two changed astronomical study.


Sixteenth century Europe saw many changes. A revival of humanist thought led many to broaden their ways of thinking about the world. Humanism is a philosophy that supports reason and respect. Humanists encouraged education as this was the basis of reason. They also believed each person deserved an equal amount of respect and the freedom to choose their beliefs. Humanism was a popular movement. As humanism spread through Europe, many universities held humanist scholars.

The Ancient Greeks and the Stars

Humanists studied the works of the ancient Greek philosophers. One philosopher was known for his observations regarding the universe. This philosopher's name was Ptolemy. Ptolemy believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. He also believed other heavenly bodies like the moon, the planets, and the sun moved in perfect circles around the Earth. Because he believed the heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles, he accounted for any discrepancies in their movement with epicycles. An epicycle was a smaller circle where planets moved as they moved around the larger circle. The larger circle was called a deferent.

At odds with the Bible, Copernicus believed that the Earth spun on an axis and moved around the sun
Copernicus Conflicted Bible


Nicolaus Copernicus was a mathematician and a clergyman from Poland. When he went to college to study canon law, he lived with an astronomer. He would have also come into contact with humanist scholars as he studied. At this time, he was introduced to both astronomy and the study of ancient Greeks.

Copernicus agreed with Ptolemy's idea of epicycles but disagreed with some of Ptolemy's theory. He proposed that the sun was the center of the universe and that the planets revolved around it. This theory is called the heliocentric system. He also said that the Earth not only moved around the sun, but it also spun on an axis.

Copernicus's theory appeared to some to conflict with the writings of the Christian Bible. They claimed that the scripture states that the Earth cannot be moved. Copernicus published his theory in a book called De Revolutionibus.

At this time, Europe was experiencing the Protestant Reformation. Protestants believed each person should hold authority to make decisions about religion based on the Bible. Catholics believed authority belonged to the clergy. However, both groups felt Copernicus' ideas went against scripture. Many copies of his book went unsold.


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