The Basics

Famous Physicists

How did the idea that the sun was the center of the solar system arise?

Ibn al-Haitham (known in Europe as Alhazen or Alhacen) lived between 965 and 1038. He was born in Basra, Persia (now in Iraq) and died in Cairo, Egypt. He wrote 200 books, 55 of which have survived. They include his most important work, Book of Optics, as well as books on mechanics, astronomy, geometry, and number theory. He is known as the founder of the scientific method and for his contributions to philosophy and experimental psychology.

Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s view that the sun, planets, and stars all revolved around Earth was accepted for almost eighteen centuries. Nicolas Copernicus (1473–1543), a Polish astronomer and cleric, was the first person to publish a book arguing that the solar system is a heliocentric (sun-centered) system instead of a geocentric (Earth-centered) system. In the same year as his death, he published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. His book was dedicated to Pope Paul III. The first page of his book contained a preface stating that a heliocentric system is useful for calculations, but may not be the truth. This preface was written by Andreas Osiander without Copernicus’ knowledge. It took three years before the book was denounced as being in contradiction with the Bible, and it was banned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1616. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1835.


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