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The Book That Moved The World w/ Owen Gingerich

  • Broadcast in Science
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Nicolaus Copernicus, born in the century of Guttenberg and Columbus, and a contemporary of Martin Luther, had a wonderful idea: he invented the solar system! He saw that if he rearranged the planetary system, fixing the sun and throwing the earth into motion, then there would be a remarkable unification, so that the fastest moving planet, Mercury, revolved closest to the sun, whereas lethargic Saturn automatically circled farthest from the sun. It was a crazy idea, because everyone imagined that people would fly off into space if the earth was dizzily spinning every 24 hours. As Galileo would later say, he couldn't admire enough those who accepted the Copernican system despite the evidence of their senses. So we'll discuss how hard it is to persuade people that unorthodox ideas might just be true, and why it can take generations to come to terms with radical new ways of seeing the world. ::: Owen Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. In 1992-93 he chaired Harvard's History of Science Department. Professor Gingerich's research interests have ranged from the recomputation of an ancient Babylonian mathematical table to the interpretation of stellar spectra. He is co-author of two successive standard models for the solar atmosphere, the first to take into account rocket and satellite observations of the sun; the second of these papers has received over 700 literature citations. I n the past decades Professor Gingerich has become a leading authority on the 17th- century German astronomer Johannes Kepler and on Nicholas Copernicus, the 16th- century cosmologist who proposed the heliocentric system. The Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer undertook a three-decade-long personal survey of Copernicus' great book De revolutionibus, examining over 580 sixteenth-century copies in libraries scattered throughout the world