Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Copernicus, Nicolas (1473-1543), the inaugurator of the modern system of astronomy, was born at Thorn in Poland, now West Prussia. His father was Polish and his mother German. Educated under the auspices of his uncle, Lucas, prince-bishop of Ermland, he matriculated at Cracow University in 1491, and studied mathematics, optics, and perspective. In 1496 he became a student of the canon law at Bologna, and in 1497 was nominated to a canonry at Frauenberg, Frisches Hair. In 1500 he was lecturing on astronomy at Rome, and observed there an eclipse of the moon. In 1501 he studied medicine at Padua, and, after taking his degree as doctor in canon law, he settled in Prussia in 1505. He never took full Orders, but from 1507-1512 he occupied the post of medical attendant upon his uncle. Upon his uncle's death he became possessor of £450 a year, and devoted himself chiefly to astronomy, his time, however, being also occupied by a variety of duties. In 1523 he was administrator of the diocese, and in 1542 he was smitten by the disease that carried him off the next year. It was in 1530 that his great work De Orbium Revolutionibus appeared. The great feature of this was the theory that the sun was the centre of our system, and that round it the earth, as well as the other planets, revolved. In the six books of this work he endeavoured to establish ten propositions, some of them fanciful, others true, but supported by fanciful arguments. But his main point was that the sun and not the earth was the centre of the solar system, and that the earth had a motion round its axis. He was not original in this view, since as early as the Pythagoreans a similar view had been entertained. His belief in circular orbits landed him in many difficulties, and rendered necessary the imagination of a system with checks and modifications to reconcile observed facts with expected ones. It remained for Kepler to perfect the system. Strange, to say, the views of Copernicus gave no offence to Catholics, but aroused bitter opposition among Protestants, Luther and Melancthon being among his opponents.