Whose Revolution? Copernicus, Brahe & Kepler
23.06.2021 Library of Congress
Johannes Kepler Johannes Kepler

Copernicus is often described as a lone astronomer who defiantly argued that the sun, not the Earth was at the center of the cosmos. Copernicus' contributions to astronomy are so significant that they warrant their own term: The Copernican Revolution.

The story of this revolution is problematic for several reasons. First, as much as Copernicius' ideas broke with the past, his model of the cosmos has more in common with his contemporaries than it does with modern day astronomy and physics. Second, although Copernicus' sun centered model was revolutionary it was part of a series of early modern and renaissance innovations. For example, Tycho Brahe collected observational data at an unprecedented scale, and developed his own competing model. Similarly, Johannes Kepler developed mathematical models for elliptical orbits that challenged some of the core assumptions of Aristotelian cosmology.

Looking back on these advances, exactly whose revolution was it? Or, given that each of these astronomers worked in ongoing traditions of modeling and understanding the heavens, was there a revolution at all?

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