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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