Name at birth: Niclas Kopernik
Nicolas Copernicus was born into a well-to-do family, and after his father died in 1483 he was put under the guardianship of his uncle, a bishop of Warmia (Poland). He went to university in Krakow and spent a decade in Italy, studying law and mathematics. A canon of the cathedral at Frombork, Copernicus carried out administrative duties and, from his house, observed the stars and planets. For years he worked on his theory that the planets in our solar system revolved around the sun (Ptolemy of ancient Greece had explained that the universe was a closed system revolving around the earth, and the Catholic church concurred). Hesitant to publish his work for fear of being charged with heresy, Copernicus summarized it in 1530 and circulated it among Europe's scholars, where it was greeted with enthusiasm. His work, titled De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was finally published in 1543, apparently just a few weeks before he died.
Because Copernicus? heliocentric theory of the planets defied 1,500 years of tradition, some historians mark the publication date of De revolutionibus as the beginning of the ?scientific revolution.?? It wasn?t until 1835 that his work was taken off the list of books banned by the Vatican? Another scientist who got in trouble for believing that the earth moved around the sun: Galileo Galilei.
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