Nicholas Copernicus

Copernicus, Nicholas (kōpûrˈnĭkəs) [key], Pol. Mikotaj Kopérnik, 1473–1543, Polish astronomer. After studying astronomy at the Univ. of Kraków, he spent a number of years in Italy studying various subjects, including medicine and canon law. He lectured c.1500 in Rome on mathematics and astronomy; in 1512 he settled in Frauenburg, East Prussia, where he had been nominated canon of the cathedral. There he performed his canonical duties, practiced medicine, was a legal officer, and wrote a pioneering treatise on currency reform. But the work that immortalized him is De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, in which he set forth his beliefs concerning the universe, known as the Copernican system. That treatise, which was dedicated to Pope Paul III, was probably completed by 1530 but was not published until 1543, when Copernicus was on his deathbed. Modern astronomy was built upon the foundation of the Copernican system.

See his complete works (3 vol., 1973–85, ed. and tr. by E. Rosen); biography by J. Repcheck (2007); studies by E. Rosen (1984, 1995), O. Gingerich (2004), and D. Sobel (2011).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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