Nicolaus Copernicus’ 540th birthday: A man who questioned the rules

Feb. 19, 2013 | 9:55 a.m.

CopernicusNicolaus Copernicus has received that highest of modern day honors, a Google Doodle, marking what would have been his 540th birthday.

Copernicus doesn’t come up in day-to-day conversations, but perhaps he should: He is considered the founder of modern astronomy and single-handedly changed the way we think about our place in the universe by positing that the Earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. He remains a patron saint to those who like to question the rules.

And, let’s face it: The plots of sci-fi movies and TV shows such as  “Prometheus” and “Star Trek” are all the more fascinating because of our understanding of this great galaxy of ours — and the galaxies beyond. And we have Copernicus, among others, to thank for that.

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Copernicus was born in Poland in 1473 and as a young man became fascinated by math, medicine and science, particularly astronomy. His studies led him to challenge what was then a widely accepted belief — that the Earth stood still in outer space while the sun and other celestial bodies rotated around it. Such findings outraged the Roman Catholic Church.

One problem with Copernicus’ observations: They were made with the naked eye, according to NASA’s StarChild page: It would be years before Galileo was able to confirm Copernicus’ observations using a telescope.

Photos: Google Doodles of 2013

The snazzy Google Doodle shows the universe much as Copernicus believed it to be. Take a moment to enjoy the planets swirling gently around the sun, before you get searching.

Happy birthday, Nicolaus Copernicus!

— Rene Lynch


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111 Responses to Nicolaus Copernicus’ 540th birthday: A man who questioned the rules

  1. Beverly says:

    He questioned the rules to find the truth, not just to question the rules so he could make his own truth.

  2. Paul says:

    you know it realy makes you think how many more modern day beliefs are still in corect

  3. john says:

    Copernicus was a great man, but he got his info from the Sumerians or possibly even an ET visitor.

  4. DEON FOSTER says:

    I LOVE GOGGLE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. SpaceFriday says:

    Reblogged this on SpaceFriday and commented:
    He used evidence to prove a theory. And yet, after all these years, the majority of human beings are still religious.

  6. Avry Wilson says:

    Copernicus merely usurped an idea from Aristarchos (formed more than a thousand years prior). The Heliocentric model was not the 'initial genius' observation of Copernicus. Why do we continue to teach/report that it was?

  7. Carolina says:

    Love it this make my day today Thank you

  8. John Riccioli says:

    May I recommend an editorial correction? Paragraph four, last sentence: replace with "The Roman Catholic Church greeted Copernicus's work with respectful excitement." Why? Shortly after Copernicus circulated his first heliocentric proposal in 1514 ("The Commentariolus"), the pope invited Copernicus to Rome to help them revise the general calendar, which was calculated astronomically in that era. The Reformation distracted Rome from the project. Shortly before Copernicus died, he published his "On the heavenly revolutions," encouraged to do so by many and including his uncle who was a bishop. Papal scholars in Rome returned to the calendar revision in the 1570s. Aloysius Lilius and Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius were commissioned by the pope to revise the calendar. They used Copernicus's astronomy, and the product is the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory XIII), which we still use today.
    Strange, I don't find any "outrage" in that story, Rene. Do you? Really? Galileo outraged a lot of people, including Pope Urban VIII. But that didn't happen for another fifty years! And can you really argue that "the Church" was outraged? Rene, celebrate Copernicus for what he did accomplish … for thinking outside the box of a well-established and well-argued system and proposing another for scholarly consideration. Celebrate too the people who, in agreement and disagreement with what he accomplished, however incompletely, forced further research and debate. But spare him the degradation of inserting him into a historically poorly founded myth and one that concerns a problem that emerged two generations after his death. The truth is what we owe great thinkers like Copernicus. jr

  9. @HyperLeads says:

    Innovation is great! #Capernicus_The Sun is the Center of our Planetary System

  10. Matt says:

    Copernicus dedicated “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” to Pope Paul III. Also, the “outraged” Roman Catholic Church did not ban it, as the article you reference suggests. A few minutes with Wikipedia would have helped, Rene. Give it a try sometime.

  11. jamesv says:

    LOL "what would have been his 540th birthday"

  12. dhydar says:

    Hmmm….. no mention of the fact that Coprnicus was a Catholic Priest?

  13. JM71 says:

    Of course, some religions are "welcoming" of scientific discoveries… seeing as how, (Christians), believe that the world was and is created by God…. why would we inhibit man from discovering what God put before us? Furthermore, those that think God is a joke… I'm curious to see how loud you laugh at death?

    Science can be a wonder and a beautiful discovery… or, it can profess the egotistic pride of man.

    Science, should, be more of a testament of a Creator to the Created. As intricate yet seamlessly formed… there is NOTHING that could make this an "accident".

    Denying that there is a Creator based upon the idiocracy and hypocrisy of man masked behind "religion" are not relying on themselves for answers or a Higher Power, but others to decide for them- how sad. You would rather live and die under your own terms than to ask the Creator to define you…

    I'm glad Copernicus went a little further to discover… shouldnt you?

  14. Sarah says:

    This article claims that the Roman Catholic Church was outraged by Copernicus' findings – but if you look into the real facts and reliable sources you will find that that assertion is merely a product of stereotype and bias against the Catholic Church. It received far more resistance from the Protestant movement and Martin Luther. (Copernicus was a catholic priest!!)

  15. John Crawford says:

    Today is Nicolaus Copernicus's 540th birthday. Coincidence? I think not.

  16. Pons says:

    Can I know the reason why there are only seven planets revolving around the sun in the Google Doodle for today?

  17. moldy says:

    Think of how many people are in jail or prison that have ventured into the relm of free thinking. You would be very surprised to know that many are in these jails today for not agreeing with the "church" or "state".

  18. alexi acevedo says:

    2013 innovation is great! Fe O…

  19. Robert says:

    I want to know how they did the graphic to change planes and move forward and behind one another. I'm thinking cleaver masks and strategic timing on image swaps. Oh, this was about something more than geeky graphic techniques?

  20. Observer says:

    Nicolaus Copernicus lived by the truth and would tell you, that he was NOT born in Poland.

    The documents of the town show, that he was born Niklas Koppernigk in Thorn, Prussia. He held Prussian Ius Indigenatus (citizenship). He moved to Frauenburg, Ermland or Warmia, a Prince-Bishopric, in Prussia. (which during Reformation became the first Protestant state, but the western part during the struggles came under protection of the crown of Poland-Lithuania and thus remained Catholic). After his studies abroad, he did all his observations, overlooking the (Frisches Haff) bay at the Baltic Sea. His uncle Lucas Watzenrode had governed as prince-bishop. As canon Copernicus was active in Prussian government as well. In the 20th century this land was conquered by communist Soviets, who handed it to Poland.

  21. alexi acevedo says:

    2013 innovation is great! Fe Opernicus-540th-birthday-a-man-who-questioned-the universe.

  22. OSasco says:

    Who was the ignorant journalist who wrote this article. This is ridicuous.

  23. Kopernikfan says:

    Observer…you are a master spin doctor…what are you trying to say that he was not Polish? You should learn a little bit more about history of land that you call Prussia and then post on internet. You made my day hahahhaa

  24. Rona says:

    That is so cool I did not know about nicolaus coppernicus

    until I saw this picture on google

  25. Justin says:

    It is a FACT that Nicolaus Copernicus was a skittle lover. TASTE THE RAINBOW!!!

  26. Weezer says:

    Does this doodle suggest that everything revolves around Google?

  27. To be accurate... says:

    These ideas about Copernicus' nationality being other than Polish gained their origin in 1930's Germany. You cannot ignore that Copernicus was born in the Kingdom of Poland; his father was from Krakow (Poland's capital) and was active in support of the Polish Kingdom; his mother was Polish; Copernicus studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow; he was Catholic; he spoke Polish (as well as German, Latin, etc); and he LED a Polish battalion against the Germans when defending Warmia from German attack. Do not forget that at this time the Teutonic Knights were active in the Germanization of Prussia – which up until the Knights appeared was purely Slavic. Prussia in those times was not the same Prussia that ultimately became the nucleus for Germany.

  28. Guest says:

    Nicky was one of my favorite. What he contributed enabled a paradigm shift in comprehending nature. The net one is even bigger as energy itself is redefined.

  29. Raji says:

    seriously, why only 7 planets? has anything else been disqualified like poor pluto ? :-P

  30. Michael says:

    Are you people serious? This was set up to honor a man for his discoveries by thinking outside the box and all you can do is argue religion. Get a life people. Wars are started this way.

  31. Siwell Lewis says:

    I too have a pensive thought considering there is 9 planets in our SS and recently more planets have been discovered while there is just 7 planets represented in the gif or flash video on the google home page. Still this is not a major issue tho cause I admire the art but like all other art it covey a self perceptible meaning.

  32. wayne says:

    Copernicus was a German born in what is now Poland. He was also a Catholic preist. He had his work published after his death because he knew the dire consequences of his discovery. A generation or two later, Galileo confirmed Copernicus and was threatened with torture and death by the Church, so he recanted his observations.

  33. Philip says:

    I don't know much about Nicolaus Copernicus but I was curious so I read.I was happily surprised to see so many comments that thought that the artical was anti-christian. I also find it amazing when people say that because there is science there is no God. I still don't know much about him based on the article but it seems to propose that Copernicus was opposed to the Word of God. The wisdom of God should be sought after and any scientific discoveries that go contrary to God's word is false and those that believe it or profess it are deceiving and being deceived much like II Timothy 3:13.

  34. Philip says:

    The bible says many things about the universe that took scientists centuries to discover without God. The book of Job is thought to be the first book in the bible to actually be written predating the time of Moses possibly about the time of the tower of Babel. The year when it was penned is unknown, but rest assured that it is old. Job 26:7 reads "He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." revealing that the earth is a planet in a void of nothing that we now call space. How could Job know this and other truths of the world and of the heavens without it being revealed by God? I know this is one little example but to anyone that doubts the bible I urge you to please read it and pray to God for knowledge the best way that you know how. I read the King James Version and I recommend it above all others for many reasons but this is getting long so if you want to know why then ask. May the Lord bless you.

  35. In 1466 the 2nd peace of Thorn: The treaty stated that Royal Prussia became the exclusive property of the Polish king and Polish kingdom. Poland then ruled the land for the next 300 years until her partition. Poland then regained her lands after World War l and the the 2nd Republic governed these lands again. After World War ll the Soviets did not "hand" the land over to Poland. Torun was just too far inside Poland to steal, which the Soviets did to much of Eastern Poland and the old Polish-Lithuanian Commomwealth.

  36. OldManInTheSky says:

    I actually opened your link to the New Advent and if you'll go back and read it, it does indeed state that due to prevailing hostility against the Copernican system, only the chapter on triginometry was printed. A man named Rheticus was employed to publish Copernicus manuscripts because he was 68 yrs. old and getting weaker. Later when Rheticus tried to resume his chair at Wittenberg, on account of his Copernican views, was forced to resign.
    Sadly, Copernicus was handed the first copy of " The six books on the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbits" on the day he died !
    So from what I have read, Rene may have done her research quite well indeed and many of you have been too quick to criticize her ! Maybe an apology is in order here but I guess Rene won't be holding her breath for one.

  37. Maria says:

    Google is great at educating people !!!!

  38. megaterang says:

    Thank you John Riccioli for setting the record straight. Not only did the news of a heliocentric universe not outrage the Catholic Church but as you rightly noted Copernicus was invited to Rome to revise the calander – his life's work from that point on. And He was honored by the Pope and the Church as whole at his death. (read the Eulogy). It is so tiring to hear the same old revisionist history about the Catholioc Church. The institution that did more for the advancement of science then any other institution in the history of the world.
    Also, (in answer to Avry Wilson above) while the idea was around even before Aristarcos – we give credit to Copernicus because he didn't just spout the idea he came up with a model that rivaled Ptolemy's model. Ptolemy's model was still more accurate believe it or not because Copernicus used circular orbits not eliptical – so while the heliocentric model did explain a lot of things it was still not as good at predicting the locations of celestial objects. It took Galileo's telescopic observations of the phases of Venus to confirm what Copernicus had predicted.

  39. harsh says:

    Aryabhatta born in Kerala, India in 2700 BC, was the first to calculate Pi of 3.1416 and the solar year of 365.358 days . He propounded a heliocentric universe 4200 years before Copernicus, with elliptically orbiting planets and a spherical earth spinning on its axis explaining the motion of the heavens. He was the father of plane / spherical Trigonometry and Algebra, when Europe was in the dark ages.. Today you don't see this pioneers name in the list of top 100 mathematicians.
    Aryabhatta was the first to compute the circumference of the earth, with an error of just 64 miles.. Aryabhatta gave a method to find the cube root of numbers and dealt with arithmetic,geometric and indeterminate equations in algebra. He dealt with square, cube, triangle, trapezium, circle and sphere in geometry. He was called Arjehir by the Arabs.
    Poor Galileo copied Aryabhatta 4 millennium years later , that the earth is round and circles the sun , and the church blinded him , so that he can never look into another telescope .

    Typical of the west to steal and propagate it as their own, like everything else. Give credit where credit is due, this is plagiarism of the worst type. India has been the center of spiritual & scientific discovery thousands of years before western copy cats claimed it as their own and wrote the history books.

    do the research

  40. Soterios Gardiakos says:

    In the original manuscript (which still exists) Copernicus gave full credit to the Greek astronomer Aristarchus. As his book was published after his death the publisher edited Copernicus manuscript and omitted all references to Aristarchus for reasons unknown.
    Galileo did not prove Copernicus theory but on the contrary failed to prove it.. He failed because Galileo believed that the planets revolved in perfect circles, which they do not, the revolve in an elliptical orbit. In the end the system devised by Ptolemy more accurately predicted the movement of the heavenly bodies.
    It was not until Kepler, after reading a book by Henry the navigator on ellipses, and using Brahes observations decided to predict the movement of the heavenly based on elliptical orbits rather than perfect circle orbits that the accuracy of the position of the heavenly bodies exceeded those predicted by Ptolemy.

  41. sinequanon77 says:

    What did I gather from this reading & comment ? This one : A fact which proofed that not always what the majority of man think and believe is by all means true and correct.

  42. Observer says:

    In answer to some odd entries:

    A 1597 print by de Bry shows Nicolaus Copernicus Tornaeus Borussus Mathematicus , the Prussian Mathematician from Thorn.

    An article at todays Torun/Poland University… states that Copernicus was born in Royal Prussia, with a 16. century map of Prussia. The country was actually not called Koenigliches Preussen (Royal Prussia) until the 18. century, when the crown of Poland-Lithuania was held by German Kurfuersten, (prince-electors). They were the protectors/overlords of the western part of Prussia. The country nevertheless had its own borders, constitution, money, military and nationality. Thus Copernicus was always a citizen of Prussia, not born in Poland, not Polish.

  43. Bren says:

    The probability is most likely that Copernicus was a Catholic priest. Some are trying to revise history now saying Copernicus was not an ordained priest contrary to most history books which say he was a Catholic priest. Copernicus was called a canon during his lifetime. Being called a canon during the time of Copernicus meant one of following: an ordained priest or a member of the Canons Regular (priests who live in community) attached to major churches and cathedrals. In Catholic church parlance, a cleric may not be an ordained priest but a canon is always an ordained priest. Also, during the time of Copernicus, one who studied Canon Law most likely was a priest because it was beyond the theological studies necessary for ordination to the priesthood. Today many lay people can study Canon Law but not during the time of Copernicus. If he was a layman it would be more profitable for him to study Civil Law. The probability of Copernicus being a priest is most likely than not. Those who have been asserting that Copernicus was not a priest are mostly Protestants and atheists. Even Galileo acknowledged that Copernicus was a Catholic priest.

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