Nikolaus Kopernikus

Portrait: Nikolaus Kopernikus
Nicolaus Copernicus, copperplate by Johann Christoph Reinsberger, 1742. This section of the engraving originates from the cover of the work Atlas coelestis by Johann Gabriel Doppelmayr.
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Nikolaus Kopernikus

An astronomer revolutionises humanity’s view of the world

In the middle of all (planets) stands the sun.

Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, 1543

Two months after Nicolaus Copernicus died, his epochal book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), which upended the prevailing geocentric worldview, was published in Nuremberg. The astronomer, who hailed from Thorn (present-day Toruń) on the River Vistula, recognised that it was the Sun rather than the Earth which was the mid-point of the universe. He drew on the theories of ancient scholars and his own observations carried out over decades by means of triquetrum, Jacob’s staff and other scientific equipment. The telescope, however, was only invented a hundred years hence. This new, heliocentric worldview is called the Copernican System in his honour.

Decades later, the teachings of Copernicus were banned by the Catholic Church in 1616 and placed on the Roman Index of prohibited books. It wasn’t until 1835 that Copernicus’s masterwork was struck from the Index, along with the works of Galileo.