O mistério do túmulo de Copérnico

terça-feira, julho 28, 2009

The Copernicus grave mystery

Owen Gingerich,1

+Author Affiliations

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA 02138
When in 2005 Polish archaeologists led by Jerzy Gassowski found fragments of a skeleton tentatively identified as the remains of the 16th-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, some doubts remained. Now, in this issue of PNAS (1), these issues are resolved with high confidence through DNA analysis.

Nicolaus Copernicus was, literally, the man who invented the solar system. He noticed that by rearranging the circles of the ancient Ptolemaic system so that each planet, including the Earth, moved around the Sun, something beautiful happened. The fastest-moving planet, Mercury, revolved closest to the Sun; the slowest, lethargic Saturn, came at the outer fringe of his planetary system; and the others neatly arranged themselves by period. “In no other arrangement,” Copernicus exclaimed, “do we find such a harmonious relation between the size of the orbit and the planetary period” (2).

This result was not the consequence of new observations. It had been waiting for centuries for someone daring enough to suggest that the Earth was in motion and the Sun was fixed. Copernicus was not a particularly accurate or busy observer, although he took care to observe the planets at selected critical moments to confirm the parameters established long before by Ptolemy. Hence we have only a few score observations from Copernicus himself, and he recorded six of them, of eclipses, near the images of eclipses in a calendrical treatise that he owned (3). It was a copy of Johann Stoeffler's Calendarium Romanum magnum published …

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1E-mail: ginger@cfa.harvard.edu


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