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Pioneers of Our Solar System Descriptions

How long is it since we thought that the Earth was the center of the Universe? And when did we understand that this isnt so? And who of the ancient astronomers said what? The answers may be surprising to some as they were to me! Ill go just go back a mere 2300 years, and look at what some philosophers and astronomers had to say. Heres the list, based on extensive searches of the Internet: Aristarchus of Samos, 310 BCE ca. 230 BCE His hypothesis was that the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, that the Earth revolves about the Sun on the circumference of a circle, and that the sphere of the fixed stars, situated about the same center as the Sun, is so great that the circle in which the Earth revolves appears comparatively small.

Ptolomaeus (Ptolomy) of Alexandria, 90 AD 168 AD Ptolomaeus was most likely aware of the works of Aristarchus. Nonetheless, he imagined a geocentric system, with the Earth as the center and the Sun and the Moon and the planets moving around it in orbits. The orbits were epicycles, i.e. circles rolling on the periphery of larger circles, which was necessary to explain the variation in speed and direction of certain celestial bodies, as well as the variation of their apparent distances from the Earth. Copernicus, 1473-1543 Copernicus completed his theoretical thesis on the solar system by 1532, but refrained from publishing it for fear of aggravating the Catholic Church. This despite the fact that Pope Clement VII had actually expressed a positive interest in his works. Copernicus was aware of the ancient model of Aristarchus, and the Copernican model was indeed a heliocentric model, as opposed to that of Ptolomy, which had ruled Western philosophy for more than a millennium. Nonetheless, the Ptolemaic concept of the epicycles was still retained by Copernicus. Copernicus finally published his work shortly before his death, dedicating it to the then Pope, Paul III.

Kepler, 1571-1630 Kepler was a highly skilled mathematician and astronomer, and his work can be seen as an important first step in modernizing the theory proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus. While Copernicus sought to advance a heliocentric system in his writings, he resorted to Ptolemaic devices (i.e., epicycles and eccentric circles) in order to explain the change in planets' orbital speed, and also continued to use as a point of reference the center of the Earth's orbit rather than that of the Sun. Modern astronomy owes much to Kepler, for taking the first step in cleansing the Copernican system of the remnants of the Ptolomaic theory still clinging to it. Tycho Brahe, 1546-1601 Tycho Brahe was granted an estate on the island of Hven, Denmark (now Sweden) and the funding to build the Uranienborg, an early research institute, where he built large astronomical instruments and took many careful measurements, and later Stjerneborg, underground, when he discovered that his instruments in the former were not sufficiently steady. He later built a new observatory in Czechoslovakia. Here, from 1600 until his death in 1601, he was assisted by Johannes Kepler, who later used Tycho's astronomical data to develop his laws of planetary motion. Tycho Brahe advocated a combination of the Copernican system and the Ptolomaic system, where the Sun and the Moon orbited the Earth, while the other planets orbited the Sun. However, as an astronomer Tycho Brahe was mainly an experimentalist, who collected vast amounts of data for others to interpret. Galileo, 1564-1642 Galileo's championing of heliocentrism was controversial within his lifetime, when most subscribed to either geocentrism or the Tychonic system. He met with opposition from astronomers who doubted heliocentrism due to the absence of an observed stellar parallax. The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, and they concluded that it could be supported as only a possibility, not an established fact. Pope Urban VIII and the Jesuits, who had both supported Galileo up until this point, developed an increasing opposition to Galileos theories. He was tried (1632) by the Inquisition and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, after having agreed to denounce his claim that the Earth moves around the sun. Legend has it that on his way out of the Courtroom he muttered under his breath: and yet it moves! - Niels Kjaer-Pedersen