Science Writing

A Brief History of the Heliocentric Model – Day 7 (Feb)

For the longest time, humanity assumed the Earth was the centre of not only the Solar System, but the whole Universe.

It makes sense, despite early humanities knowledge of the stars for navigation and seasonal change, the idea that we weren’t the centre of everything was ludicrous to most people.

We now know better, and the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun is accepted by (hopefully) all people. But when did this idea first come about?

People have heard the story of Copernicus; the astronomer who, using observations of the stars and planets created a heliocentric model of the Solar System. He published his findings in a book in the same year of his death, but it was met with little fanfare or regard.

What is more obscure is that Copernicus wasn’t the first person to suggest that the Sun is the centre of the Solar System. Almost two thousand years ago, and more than one thousand years before Copernicus, Aristarchus of Samos proposed a heliocentric model of the Universe.

All writings by Aristarchus have been lost, but his theory is mentioned by Archimedes in his book, The Sand Reckoner.

‘…he hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves about the sun on the circumference of a circle, the sun lying in the middle of the orbit…’

Unfortunately, this and a few more mentions by writers during his time, are the only records of Aristarchus’ heliocentric theory.

The world would need to wait until Copernicus and then Galileo, for the Heliocentric model to become the most popular and accepted theory.

And speaking of Galileo, it was his invention of the telescope that allowed him to provide solid evidence of a heliocentric model. Once he had observed the moons of Jupiter revolving around the gas giant, he became convinced of the correctness of the Copernicus model and for the rest of his life remained a staunch supporter of it.

Even after the church banned any and all mention of it and placed Galileo under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

But it was too little, too late, and the scientific community grasped hold of the idea of a heliocentric model and it has led us to where we are today.

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