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The Scientific Revolution Reshapes the World: Nicolaus Copernicus.

Born in Thorn, Prussia (now Torun, Poland) in 1473, Nicolaus Copernicus received a wide-ranging education in the expectation that he would become a church official. He studied classics and mathematics at Krak- w, law and astronomy at Bologna, and law, Greek, and medicine at Padua, before receiving his doctorate in canon law from the University of Ferrara in 1503.

Though he never took holy orders, Copernicus was appointed canon of the Frauenburg Cathedral in 1497 by his uncle, the bishop of Ermeland. After a leave of absence to pursue studies in Italy and teach mathematics at Rome, he returned to become his uncle's physician and secretary from 1506 to 1512. Resuming his duties as canon at Frauenburg, Copernicus served principally as an adviser on legal and political affairs, publishing a work on currency reform in 1522.

Beginning at Padua in 1497, Copernicus took up an interest in astronomy. At least partly in response to issues of calendar reform raised at the Lateran Council of 1512--17, he began to think about a reform of cosmology. He produced an initial sketch (Commentariolus) in 1514, suggesting the need to reject Ptolemy's Earth-centered theory with a new, Sun-centered system. Urged by friends to develop and publish his ideas, Copernicus completed his iconoclastic work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) in 1543, shortly before his death.

Though Copernicus clearly believed in the reality of a Sun-centered solar system, he was careful to follow astronomical conventions in emphasizing that this model was merely a hypothetical construct. His friend Andreas Osiander added a prefatory note reinforcing its claim as a hypothetical proposition, to protect the work from hostile criticisms stemming from its apparent inconsistency with both Aristotelian natural philosophy and a literalist interpretation of scripture. The Gregorian calendar reform of 1582 was based on astronomical tables derived from Copernican theory. Nonetheless, as a result of Galileo's aggressive insistence on the physical reality of the Copernican system, De revolutionibus was placed on the index of prohibited books in 1616.

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Title Annotation:biographical details of the 16th-century Prussian/Polish astronomer
Publication:World and I
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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