According to Copernicus the earth is only a planet like the others, and not even the biggest one, while the sun is the most important body in the system, and the stars probably too far away for any motion of the earth to affect their apparent places. The earth in fact is very small in comparison with the distance of the stars, as evidenced by the fact that an observer anywhere on the earth appears to be in the middle of the universe. He shows that the revolution of the earth will account for the seasons, and for the stationary points and retrograde motions of the planets. He corrects definitely the order of the planets outwards from the sun, a matter which had been in dispute. A notable defect is due to the idea that a body can only revolve about another body or a point, as if rigidly connected with it, so that, in order to keep the earth’s axis in a constant direction in space, he has to invent a third motion. His discussion of precession, which he rightly attributes to a slow motion of the earth’s axis, is marred by the idea that the precession is variable. With all its defects, partly due to reliance on bad observations, the work showed a great advance in the interpretation of the motions of the planets; and his determinations of the periods both in relation to the earth and to the stars were adopted by Reinhold, Professor of Astronomy at Wittenberg, for the new Prutenic or Prussian Tables, which were to supersede the obsolete Alphonsine Tables of the thirteenth century.
In comparison with the question of the motion of the earth, no other astronomical detail of the time seems to be of much consequence. Comets, such as from time to time appeared, bright enough for naked eye observation, were still regarded as atmospheric phenomena, and their principal interest, as well as that of eclipses and planetary conjunctions, was in relation to astrology. Reform, however, was obviously in the air. The doctrine of Copernicus was destined very soon to divide others besides the Lutheran leaders. The leaven of inquiry was working, and not long after the death of Copernicus real advances were to come, first in the accuracy of observations, and, as a necessary result of these, in the planetary theory itself.
Early life of Kepler.
On 21st December, 1571, at Weil in the Duchy of Wurtemberg, was born a weak and sickly seven-months’ child, to whom his parents Henry and Catherine Kepler gave the name of John. Henry Kepler was a petty officer in the service of the reigning Duke, and in 1576 joined the army serving in the Netherlands. His wife followed him, leaving her young son in his grandfather’s care at Leonberg, where he barely recovered from a severe attack of smallpox. It was from this place that John derived the Latinised name of Leonmontanus, in accordance with the common practice of the time, but he was not known by it to any great extent.