Copernicus, Nicolaus

Copernicus, Nicolaus, the Latinized name of Mikolaj Koppernigk (1473--1543), a Polish astronomer. He was the first to publish a book setting forth evidence that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. His book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, published in 1543, was greeted by bitter opposition because it conflicted with theological beliefs of the times. It denied the generally accepted theory of Claudius Ptolemy, which stated that the earth was immovable and was the center of the universe. Copernicus explained that the heavens appeared to move around the earth because of the earth's rotation. The Copernican system provided a foundation for the work of Johann Kepler, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.

Copernicus was born in Torun (Thorn), Poland, of German ancestry. He studied astronomy and mathematics at Krakw, and in 1496 went to Italy. He studied Greek and philosophy at Bologna, medicine at Padua, and church law at Ferrara. In 1500 Copernicus lectured at Rome on astronomy and mathematics. He later went to Prussia to become physician to his uncle, the bishop of Ermeland. He died at Frauenburg shortly after his book was published.