May 24

This Day in History

General Interest

May 24, 1543:

Copernicus dies

On May 24, 1543, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus dies in what is now Frombork, Poland. The father of modern astronomy, he was the first modern European scientist to propose that Earth and other planets revolve around the sun.

Prior to the publication of his major astronomical work, "Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs," in 1543, European astronomers argued that Earth lay at the center of the universe, the view also held by most ancient philosophers and biblical writers. In addition to correctly postulating the order of the known planets, including Earth, from the sun, and estimating their orbital periods relatively accurately, Copernicus argued that Earth turned daily on its axis and that gradual shifts of this axis accounted for the changing seasons.

He died the year his major work was published, saving him from the outrage of some religious leaders who later condemned his heliocentric view of the universe as heresy. By the late 18th century, the Copernican view of the solar system was almost universally accepted.

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