The search for a new astronomical model

Copernicus, like many of his contemporaries, noticed the frequent inconsistencies in traditional astronomy and especially the huge discrepancy between practical astronomy and the physical theory that explained the motion of the planets. There were intractable contradictions between the principles of Aristotle physics and the mathematical scheme of Claudius Ptolemy, on which practical astronomy rested then. The trouble was that the Ptolemaic scheme adequately met the practical needs of astronomers (calendar design, etc.), but only if Aristotle’s principles were ignored, which stated that all celestial movements should be uniform and circular with “proper centers” (which -or physical bodies).


Since these requirements could only be reconciled with the help of conditional additions such as equant and epicycle, the dilemma between physics and astronomy led to a compromise (it was reflected in textbooks of the 15th — 16th centuries): astronomical models were considered only as hypothetical conventions, that is, as convenient mathematical models , which allowed to manipulate astronomical material, but physically unreal. This discrepancy did not satisfy Copernicus and pushed to search for a new model that would be consistent with the physical principles. He found it in the ancient tradition of Aristotle, Aristarchus and the Pythagoreans, on the basis of which he obtained the heliocentric model and came to the conclusion that this is by no means another hypothetical scheme, but the only system consistent with the established physical principles.


However, after Copernicus made his discovery and wrote his work, his theory might not have seen the light if Georg Joachim Ratik (1514–1574), a young professor of mathematics at Wittenberg University, the center of the reform movement in Germany, did not come to him. Ratik lived with Copernicus in Poland for almost two years, studying and correcting his manuscript. He convinced Copernicus not only to allow the publication of a preliminary statement of his theory, but also to make a copy of the manuscript for publication in Germany. Ratic may have been the only astronomer of the sixteenth century who was able to appreciate the cosmological significance of Copernicus’s theory and believed in its truth.


Ratik initially intended to publish a book in Wittenberg. However, in Nuremberg, the printing of scientific books was better, and Ratik went there. However, pretty soon he was invited to the University of Leipzig, and he ordered the publication to be supervised by Andrei Osiander, a prominent figure in the Reformation and an amateur scholar. It was Osiander who composed and attached to the book the unsigned “Letter to the readers”, in which he praised the work of Copernicus and at the same time asked the reader not to be insulted by the novelty of the Copernican model, and also expounded the traditional view: astronomical models have always been hypothetical and should not to be true, or at least plausible - if only astronomical material would fit in them.


Of course, a knowledgeable reader could easily notice the divergence of views between Copernicus and his publisher, but another thing is important here: this letter did not bother anyone in academic circles — at least not so much that any written traces remained. Professional astronomers like Erasmus Reingold at the University of Wittenberg Copernicus was primarily interested in mathematical tables and simplified planetary constructions (without an equant), but the cosmological side left them almost (or completely) indifferent. And in any case, Osiander's “Letter” would set them up to their usual approach to astronomical work, when all such models were regarded as purely hypothetical. This is not surprising, given the state of practical astronomy in that era. Then there simply was no intellectual or social need to accept the new theory or reject it. In addition, the attention of most scholars of that era was drawn to the consequences of political and religious reform.


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