Some people come up with theories that seem too idiotic to be true. This doesn’t stop these people from working these theories out. Then they get in trouble with the authorities for their theories. This might mean they can’t continue their work the way they were used to, or they even have to fear for their lives. Again, that is not holding them back. In fact, they are even more convinced that they are doing the right thing. Eventually, it turns out that the idiotic theory wasn’t idiotic after all. Heck, it was actually true. And centuries later we talk laugh the people that couldn’t believe that such a theory could be true. In short, this was almost what happened to today’s Master of the Stars: Nicolaus Copernicus.
The sky view of Copernicus
In 1510, Nicolaus Copernicus created a theory which took him another 33 years to complete, until his death in 1543. In that year his theory was published in his masterwork De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium (About the revolutions of the celestial spheres). This theory is now known as the heliocentric theory, and it was a shocking one at the time. Copernicus was convinced that Earth was not the center of the universe. Until then, common belief was that everything orbited around the Earth. God had created Earth, and the planets, stars, Moon, and Sun all moved around our planet.
Copernicus stated the following:
- The center of the Earth is not the center of the universe, it is however the center of gravity and of the lunar orbital sphere.
- Not only Earth, but also the other planets, revolve around the Sun. This makes the Sun the center of the universe.
- When we see the stars and the Moon moving in the night’s sky, that is not because they move around. It is the motion of Earth that makes it seem like they are moving. Since different celestial bodies take different times to complete their revolution, Earth must have more than one motion.
Copernicus did not get into trouble
The church was not happy with the publication of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Any action against it could definitely interfere with his work, or even his safety. However, the clergy decided to completely ignore its existence at the first Council after publication. Probably they thought the idea was so radical it will be forgotten about soon enough.It wasn’t until 73 years later when Galilei mentioned it again that the church realized they had to take action and formulated their opposition. This meant that it was forbidden to write anything defending the heliocentric theory. Obviously, Copernicus wasn’t alive back then, so he never got to see the opposition of the church.
It wasn’t until 1758, more than 200 years after the publication of De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium, that the church no longer prohibited publications in favor of the heliocentric theory. Copernicus’ book however, together with the work of Galileo, remained blacklisted for another 67 years. It was 1835 when it was finally possible to get a legal copy of that idiotic theory.