History Wiki
History Wiki

In astronomy, heliocentrism is the theory that the Sun is stationary and at the center of the universe. The word came from the Greek (ήλιος Helios = sun and κέντρον kentron = center). Historically, heliocentrism was opposed to geocentrism, which placed the Earth at the center. Discussions on the possibility of heliocentrism date to classical antiquity. It was not until the 16th century that a fully predictive mathematical model of a heliocentric system was presented, by mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. In the following century, this model was elaborated and expanded by Johannes Kepler and supporting observations made using a telescope were presented by Galileo Galilei.

Development of heliocentrism[]

To anyone who stands and looks at the sky, it seems clear that the Earth stays in one place while everything in the sky rises and sets or goes around once every day. Observing over a longer time, one sees more complicated movements. The Sun makes a slower circle over the course of a year; the planets have similar motions, but they sometimes turn around and move in the reverse direction for a while (retrograde motion).

As these motions became better understood, they required more and more elaborate descriptions, the most famous of which was the Ptolemaic system, formulated in the 2nd century, which, though considered incorrect today, still manages to calculate the correct positions for the planets to a moderate degree of accuracy, though Ptolemy's demand that epicycles not be eccentric causes needless problems for the motions of Mars and especially Mercury. Ptolemy himself, in his Almagest, points out that any model for describing the motions of the planets is merely a mathematical device, and, since there is no actual way to know which is true, the simplest model that gets the right numbers should be used; however, he himself chose the epicyclic geocentric model and in his ultimate work, Planetary Hypotheses, treated his models as sufficiently real that the distances of moon, sun, planets and stars were determinable by treating orbits' celestial spheres as contiguous realities. This made the stars' distance less than 20 Astronomical Units[1]—a subtraction from science since Aristarchus's heliocentric scheme had already centuries earlier necessarily placed the stars at least two orders of magnitude more distant.

Philosophical discussions[]

Philosophical arguments on heliocentrism involve general statements that the Sun is at the center of the universe or that some or all of the planets revolve around the Sun, and arguments supporting these claims. These ideas can be found in a range of Sanskrit, Greek, Arabic and Latin texts. Few of these early sources, however, develop techniques to compute any observational consequences of their proposed heliocentric ideas.

Ancient India[]

According to Dick Teresi, the earliest traces of a counter-intuitive idea that it is the Earth that is actually moving and the Sun that is at the center of the solar system is found in Vedic and post-Vedic texts[2][3] such as Shatapatha Brahmana, which has, according to Subhash Kak:

"The sun is stationed for all time, in the middle of the day. [...] Of the sun, which is always in one and the same place, there is neither setting nor rising."[4]

Kak interprets this to mean that the Sun is stationary, hence the Earth is moving around it.

Yajnavalkya's astronomical text Shatapatha Brahmana ( stated

The sun strings these worlds - the earth, the planets, the atmosphere - to himself on a thread.[5]

Yajnavalkya recognized that the Sun was much larger than the Earth, which would have influenced this early heliocentric concept. He also accurately measured the relative distances of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth as 108 times the diameters of these heavenly bodies, almost close to the modern measurements of 107.6 for the Sun and 110.6 for the Moon.

Ancient Greece[]

See also: Greek astronomy

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote that:

"At the center, they [the Pythagoreans] say, is fire, and the Earth is one of the stars, creating night and day by its circular motion about the center."
AristotleOn the Heavens, Book Two, Chapter 13

The reasons for this placement were philosophic, based on the classical elements, rather than scientific; fire was more precious than earth in the opinion of the Pythagoreans, and for this reason the fire should be central. However, the central fire is not the Sun. The Pythagoreans believed the Sun orbited the central fire along with everything else. Aristotle dismissed this argument and advocated geocentrism.

The first person reported to present an argument for a heliocentric system, however, was Aristarchus of Samos (c. 270 BC). Like Eratosthenes, Aristarchus calculated the size of the Earth, and measured the size and distance of the Moon and Sun, in a treatise which has survived. From his estimates, he concluded that the Sun was six to seven times wider than the Earth and thus hundreds of times more voluminous. His writings on the heliocentric system are lost, but some information is known from surviving descriptions and critical commentary by his contemporaries, such as Archimedes. Some have suggested that his calculation of the relative size of the Earth and Sun led Aristarchus to conclude that it made more sense for the Earth to be moving than for the huge Sun to be moving around it. Though the original text has been lost, a reference in Archimedes' book The Sand Reckoner describes another work by Aristarchus in which he advanced an alternative hypothesis of the heliocentric model. Archimedes wrote:

You King Gelon are aware the 'universe' is the name given by most astronomers to the sphere the center of which is the center of the Earth, while its radius is equal to the straight line between the center of the Sun and the center of the Earth. This is the common account as you have heard from astronomers. But Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the universe is many times greater than the 'universe' just mentioned. His 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, and that the sphere of fixed stars, situated about the same center as the Sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the Earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the center of the sphere bears to its surface.[6]

Aristarchus thus believed the stars to be very far away, and saw this as the reason why there was no visible parallax, that is, an observed movement of the stars relative to each other as the Earth moved around the Sun. The stars are in fact much farther away than the distance that was generally assumed in ancient times, which is why stellar parallax is only detectable with telescopes.

Archimedes says that Aristarchus made the stars' distance larger, suggesting that he was answering the natural objection that heliocentrism requires stellar parallactic oscillations. He apparently agreed to the point but placed the stars so distant as to make the parallactic motion invisibly minuscule. Thus heliocentrism opened the way for realization that the universe was larger than the geocentrists taught.[7]

However, it is worth noting that the oldest surviving manuscript of Archimedes' The Sand Reckoner which references Aristarchus is dated to the mid-16th century, around the time of Copernicus.[8]

It should be noted that Plutarch mentions the 'followers of Aristarchus' in passing, so it is likely that there are other astronomers in the Classical period who also espoused heliocentrism whose work is now lost to us. However, the only other astronomer from antiquity who is known by name and who is known to have supported a heliocentric model was Seleucus of Seleucia, a Mesopotamian astronomer who lived a century after Aristarchus.

Middle East[]

The Babylonian astronomer Seleucus of Seleucia (b. 190 BC),[9] also known as Seleucus of Babylon,[10] proposed a heliocentric system, and according to Plutarch, even proved it. Plutarch stated:

Was [Timaeus] giving the earth motion ..., and should the earth ... be understood to have been designed not as confined and fixed but as turning and revolving about, in the way expounded later by Aristarchus and Seleucus, the former assuming this as a hypothesis and the latter proving it?[10]

According to Strabo, Seleucus was also the first to assume the universe to be infinite.[11] Seleucus is also known for being the greatest authority on tidal theory in antiquity.[10] The proof of Seleucus may have been related to his observations of the phenomenon of tides.[12] Indeed, Seleucus correctly theorized that tides were caused by the Moon, although he believed that the interaction was mediated by the pneuma, or Earth's atmosphere. He noted that the tides varied in time and strength in different parts of the world.

In the medieval Islamic civilization, due to the scientific dominance of the Ptolemaic system in early Islamic astronomy, most Muslim astronomers accepted the geocentric model.[13] However, several Muslim scholars had discussions on whether the Earth moved and tried to explain how this might be possible.[14]

Jafar al Sadiq (702-765) proposed a heliocentric theory. He refuted the geocentric model of the universe common at the time, in which the Earth is not moving and the Sun, Moon and the planets are orbiting around it. He was the first to refute Ptolemy's theory of the Sun having two movements, one going round the Earth in one year and the other going round the Earth in 24 hours causing day and night. Al-Sadiq argued that if the Sun is moving round the Earth in one year, it cannot suddenly change its course and go round the Earth in one day. He suggested that this could be explained with a heliocentric theory in which the Earth rotates about its own axis and around the Sun.[15]

In the tenth century, the Brethren of Purity published the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity, in which a heliocentric view of the universe is expressed in a section on cosmology:[16]

"God has placed the Sun at the center of the Universe just as the capital of a country is placed in its middle and the ruler's palace at the center of the city."

Alhacen (Ibn al-Haytham) wrote a scathing critique of Ptolemy's model in his Doubts on Ptolemy (c. 1028), which some interpret to imply he was criticizing Ptolemy's geocentrism,[17] but many agree that he was actually criticizing the details of Ptolemy's model rather than his geocentrism.[18] Alhacen did, however, later propose the Earth's rotation on its axis in The Model of the Motions (c. 1038).[19]

In 1030, the Persian scientist and astronomer Biruni discussed the Indian astronomical theories of Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Varahamihira in his Indica. (Al-)Biruni agreed with the Earth's rotation about its own axis, and while he was initially neutral regarding the heliocentric and geocentric models,[20] he noted that heliocentrism was a philosophical problem, rather than a mathematical problem.[21] Abu Said al-Sijzi, a contemporary of Biruni, suggested the possible movement of the Earth around the Sun, which Biruni did not reject.[22] According to Paul Lunde, "al-Biruni, writing in about AD 1000, refers to the heliocentric model quite casually, as if it were well-known, saying that although it was evi­dently the correct one, the Ptolemaic, or geocentric, model was always preferred for theological reasons." [4]

Qutb al-Din (b. 1236), in his The Limit of Accomplishment concerning Knowledge of the Heavens, also discussed whether heliocentrism was a possibility.[22]

Allusions to heliocentrism also can be found in the works of Muslim theologians and philosophers such as Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (b. 1149), Al-Zamakhshari (b. 1075), and Ottoman Sheikh ul-Islam Ebussuud Efendi (b.1490).

In his major work Tafsir al-Kabir, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi defends ideas of heliocentrism with only difference that the Sun is not mentioned as a static object or as a centre of the Universe:

Even though the Earth is described as a bed in this verse, in the other verse it is portrayed as a sphere. Spherical earth is revolving around the Sun. If questioned "How people and objects can stand on the Earth if the Earth, as a sphere, revolving around the Sun?", my answer will be that the Earth is such a huge sphere where flat surfaces appear."[23]

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi rejected the Aristotelian and Avicennian notion of the Earth's centrality within the universe, but instead argues that there are more than "a thousand thousand worlds beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has."[24]

Al-Zamakhshari in his work Al-Kashshaaf[25] and Ebussuud Efendi in Irshadu'l-Akli's-Selim[26] provide similar explanations which support heliocentrism.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi also participated in the debate among Islamic scholars over whether the celestial spheres or orbits (falak) are "to be considered as real, concrete physical bodies" or "merely the abstract circles in the heavens traced out year in and year out by the various stars and planets." He points out that many astronomers prefer to see them as solid spheres "on which the stars turn," while others, such as the Islamic scholar Dahhak, view the celestial sphere as "not a body but merely the abstract orbit traced by the stars." Al-Razi himself remains "undecided as to which celestial models, concrete or abstract, most conform with external reality," and notes that "there is no way to ascertain the characteristics of the heavens," whether by "observable" evidence or by authority (al-khabar) of "divine revelation or prophetic traditions." He concludes that "astronomical models, whatever their utility or lack thereof for ordering the heavens, are not founded on sound rational proofs, and so no intellectual commitment can be made to them insofar as description and explanation of celestial realities are concerned."[24]

North Africa[]

In Roman Carthage, the North African writer Martianus Capella (5th century A.D.) expressed the opinion that the planets Venus and Mercury did not go about the Earth but instead circled the Sun.[27] Copernicus mentioned him as an influence on his own work.[28]

Medieval Europe[]

There were occasional speculations about heliocentrism in Europe before Copernicus. Martianus Capella had proposed a heliocentric model for Mercury and Venus, which was discussed in the Early Middle Ages by various anonymous ninth-century commentators.[29] During the Late Middle Ages, Bishop Nicole Oresme discussed the possibility that the Earth rotated on its axis, while Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa in his Learned Ignorance asked whether there was any reason to assert that the Sun (or any other point) was the center of the universe. In parallel to a mystical definition of God, Cusa wrote that "Thus the fabric of the world (machina mundi) will quasi have its center everywhere and circumference nowhere."[30]

Mathematical astronomy[]

In mathematical astronomy, models of heliocentrism involve mathematical computational systems that are tied to a heliocentric model and where positions of the planets can be derived. The first computational system explicitly tied to a heliocentric model was the Copernican model described by Copernicus, but there were earlier computational systems that may have implied some form of heliocentricity, notably Aryabhata's model, which has astronomical parameters which some have interpreted to imply a form of heliocentricity. Several Muslim astronomers also developed computational systems with astronomical parameters compatible with heliocentricity, as stated by Biruni, but the concept of heliocentrism was considered a philosophical problem rather than a mathematical problem. Their astronomical parameters were later adapted in the Copernican model in a heliocentric context.

Middle East[]

In the 2nd century BC, the Babylonian astronomer Seleucus of Seleucia (also known as Seleucus of Babylon[10]) is said to have proved the heliocentric theory.[31] According to Bartel Leendert van der Waerden, Seleucus may have proved the heliocentric theory by determining the constants of a geometric model for the heliocentric theory and by developing methods to compute planetary positions using this model. He may have used trigonometric methods that were available in his time, as he was a contemporary of Hipparchus.[32] A fragment of his work has survived only in Arabic translation, which was later referred to by the Persian philosopher Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (865-925).[33]

In the 9th century, the Afghan astronomer Ja'far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi developed a planetary model which can be interpreted as a heliocentric model. This is due to his orbital revolutions of the planets being given as heliocentric revolutions rather than geocentric revolutions, and the only known planetary theory in which this occurs is in the heliocentric theory. His work on planetary theory has not survived, but his astronomical data were later recorded by al-Hashimi and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī.[34]

In the 10th century, the Brethren of Purity wrote the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity, in which some verses have been interpreted as implying a heliocentric model, particularly a verse which locates the Sun at "the center of the universe."[35] Alhazen wrote a scathing critique of Ptolemy's model in his Doubts on Ptolemy (c. 1028), which some interpret to imply he was criticizing Ptolemy's geocentrism,[17] but most agree that he was actually criticizing the details of Ptolemy's model rather than his geocentrism.[36] Alhazen did, however, later propose the Earth's rotation on its axis in The Model of the Motions (c. 1038).[37]

Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī discussed the possibility of whether the Earth rotated about its own axis and around the Sun, but in his Masudic Canon, he set forth the principles that the Earth is at the center of the universe and that it has no motion of its own.[38] He was aware that if the Earth rotated on its axis and around the Sun, this would be consistent with his astronomical parameters,[39][40] but he considered this a philosophical problem rather than a mathematical one.[21] He remarked that if the Earth rotates on its axis and moves around the Sun, it would remain consistent with his astronomical parameters.[39][41] Biruni also wrote the following on Al-Sijzi's heliocentric astrolabe called the "Zuraqi".[42]

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (b. 1201) resolved significant problems in the Ptolemaic system by developing the Tusi-couple as an alternative to the physically problematic equant introduced by Ptolemy.[43] 'Umar al-Katibi al-Qazwini (d. 1277), who also worked at the Maragheh observatory, in his Hikmat al-'Ain, wrote an argument for a heliocentric model, but later abandoned the model.[22] Ibn al-Shatir (b. 1304) eliminated the need for an equant, proposing a system that was only approximately geocentric, rather than exactly so, having demonstrated trigonometrically that the Earth was not the exact center of the universe. His rectification was later used in the Copernican model, along with the earlier Tusi-couple and the Urdi lemma of Mo'ayyeduddin Urdi. Their theorems played an important role in the Copernican model of heliocentrism,[43] which was achieved by reversing the direction of the last vector connecting the Earth to the Sun.[21] In the published version of his masterwork, Copernicus also cites the theories of Albategni, Arzachel and Averroes as influences,[44] while the works of Alhacen and Biruni were also known in Europe at the time.[17]

Medieval India[]

Aryabhata (476–550), in his magnum opus Aryabhatiya, propounded a computational system based on a planetary model in which the Earth was taken to be spinning on its axis and the periods of the planets were given with respect to the Sun. Some have interpreted this to be a heliocentric model,[45][46][47] but this view has been disputed by others.[48][49][50] He was also the first to discover that the planets follow elliptical orbits, on which he accurately calculated many astronomical constants, such as the periods of the planets, times of the solar and lunar eclipses, and the instantaneous motion of the Moon (expressed as a differential equation).[3][14][51][52] Early followers of Aryabhata's model included Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, and Bhaskara II. Arabic translations of Aryabhata's Aryabhatiya were available from the 8th century, while Latin translations were available from the 13th century, before Copernicus had written De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, so it is possible that Aryabhata's work had an influence on Copernicus' ideas.

Nilakantha Somayaji (1444–1544), in his Aryabhatiyabhasya, a commentary on Aryabhata's Aryabhatiya, developed a computational system for a partially heliocentric planetary model, in which the planets orbit the Sun, which in turn orbits the Earth, similar to the Tychonic system later proposed by Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century. Nilakantha's system, however, was mathematically more efficient than the Tychonic system, due to correctly taking into account the equation of the center and latitudinal motion of Mercury and Venus. Most astronomers of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics who followed him accepted his planetary model.[53][54]

Renaissance Europe[]

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus presented a full discussion of a heliocentric model of the universe in much the same way as Ptolemy's Almagest had presented his geocentric model in the 2nd century. Copernicus discussed the philosophical implications of his proposed system, elaborated it in full geometrical detail, used selected astronomical observations to derive the parameters of his model, and wrote astronomical tables which enabled one to compute the past and future positions of the stars and planets. In doing so, Copernicus moved heliocentrism from philosophical speculation to predictive geometrical astronomy. This theory resolved the issue of planetary retrograde motion by arguing that such motion was only perceived and apparent, rather than real: it was a parallax effect, as a car that one is passing seems to move backwards against the horizon. This issue was also resolved in the geocentric Tychonic system; the latter, however, while eliminating the major epicycles, retained as a physical reality the irregular back-and-forth motion of the planets, which Kepler characterized as a "pretzel."[55]

Copernicus cited Aristarchus in an early (unpublished) manuscript of De Revolutionibus (which still survives) so he was clearly aware of at least one previous proponent of the heliocentric thesis. However, in the published version he restricts himself to noting that in works by Cicero he had found an account of the theories of Hicetas and that Plutarch had provided him with an account of the Pythagoreans Heraclides Ponticus, Philolaus, and Ecphantus. These authors had proposed a moving earth, which did not, however, revolve around a central sun.

Religious attitudes to heliocentrism[]

Heliocentrism had been in conflict with religion before Copernicus. One of the few pieces of information we have about the reception of Aristarchus's heliocentric system comes from a passage in Plutarch's dialogue, Concerning the Face which Appears in the Orb of the Moon. According to one of Plutarch's characters in the dialogue, the philosopher Cleanthes had held that Aristarchus should be charged with impiety for "moving the hearth of the world".[56] In fact, however, Aristarchus's heliocentrism appears to have attracted little attention, religious or otherwise, until Copernicus revived and elaborated it.[57]

Circulation of Commentariolus (before 1533)[]

The first information about the heliocentric views of Nicolaus Copernicus were circulated in manuscript. Although only in manuscript, Copernicus' ideas were well known among astronomers and others. His ideas appeared to contradict the bible. In the King James Bible Chronicles 16:30 state that "the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved." Psalm 104:5 says, "[the Lord] Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever." Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose."

Nonetheless, in 1533, Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter delivered in Rome a series of lectures outlining Copernicus' theory. The lectures were heard with interest by Pope Clement VII and several Catholic cardinals. On 1 November 1536, Archbishop of Capua Nicholas Schönberg wrote a letter to Copernicus from Rome encouraging him to publish a full version of his theory.

However, in 1539, Martin Luther said:

"There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must . . . invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth."

This was reported in the context of dinner-table conversation and not a formal statement of faith. Melanchthon, however, opposed the doctrine over a period of years.

Publication of de Revolutionibus (1543)[]

Nicolaus Copernicus published the definitive statement of his system in De Revolutionibus in 1543. Copernicus began to write it in 1506 and finished it in 1530, but did not publish it until the year of his death. Although he was in good standing with the Church and had dedicated the book to Pope Paul III, the published form contained an unsigned preface by Osiander defending the system and arguing that it was useful for computation even if its hypotheses were not necessarily true. Possibly because of that preface, the work of Copernicus inspired very little debate on whether it might be heretical during the next 60 years. There was an early suggestion among Dominicans that the teaching of heliocentrism should be banned, but nothing came of it at the time.

Some years after the publication of De Revolutionibus John Calvin preached a sermon in which he denounced those who "pervert the course of nature" by saying that "the sun does not move and that it is the earth that revolves and that it turns".[58] On the other hand, Calvin is not responsible for another famous quotation which has often been misattributed to him:

"Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?"

It has long been established that this line cannot be found in any of Calvin's works.[59][60][61] It has been suggested[62] that the quotation was originally sourced from the works of Lutheran theologian Abraham Calovius.

Tycho Brahe's geo-heliocentric system c. 1587[]

Prior to the publication of De Revolutionibus, the widely accepted system had been that of Ptolemy, in which the Earth was the center of the universe and all celestial bodies orbited it. Tycho Brahe advocated an alternative to the Ptolemaic geocentric system, a geo-heliocentric system now known as the Tychonic system in which the five then known planets orbit the sun, while the sun and the moon orbit the earth. The Jesuit astronomers in Rome were at first unreceptive to Tycho's system; the most prominent, Clavius, commented that Tycho was "confusing all of astronomy, because he wants to have Mars lower than the Sun." [63]

Publication of Starry messenger (1610)[]


In the 17th century AD Galileo Galilei opposed the Roman Catholic Church by his strong support for heliocentrism

Galileo was able to look at the night sky with the newly invented telescope. He published his discoveries in Sidereus Nuncius including (among other things) the moons of Jupiter and that Venus exhibited a full range of phases. These discoveries were not consistent with the Ptolemeic model of the solar system. As the Jesuit astronomers confirmed Galileo's observations, the Jesuits moved toward Tycho's teachings.[64]

Publication of Letter to the Grand Duchess (1615)[]

In a Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, Galileo defended heliocentrism, and claimed it was not contrary to Scriptures (see Galileo affair). He took Augustine's position on Scripture: not to take every passage literally when the scripture in question is a book of poetry and songs, not a book of instructions or history. The writers of the Scripture wrote from the perspective of the terrestrial world, and from that vantage point the sun does rise and set. In fact, it is the Earth's rotation which gives the impression of the sun in motion across the sky.

The decree of 1616[]

The Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina prompted the papal authorities to decide whether helocentism was acceptable. Galileo was summoned to Rome to defend his position. The Church accepted the use of heliocentrism as a calculating device, but opposed it as a literal description of the solar system. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine himself considered that Galileo's model made "excellent good sense" on the ground of mathematical simplicity; that is, as a hypothesis (see above). And he said:

"If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the center of the universe, that the Earth is in the third sphere, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion false which has been proved to be true. But I do not think there is any such proof since none has been shown to me."
—Koestler (1959), p. 447–448

Bellarmine supported a ban on the teaching of the idea as anything but hypothesis. In 1616 he delivered to Galileo the papal command not to "hold or defend" the heliocentric idea.[65] The vatican files suggest that Galileo was forbiden teach heliocentrism in any way whatever, but whether this was ban was known to Galileo is a matter of dispute.[66]

Publication of Epitome astronomia Copernicanae (1617-1621)[]

In Astronomia nova (1609), Johannes Kepler had used an eliptical orbit to explain the motion of Mars. In Epitome astronomia Copernicanae he developed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which all the planets have eliptical orbits. This provided significantly increased accuracy in predicting the position of the planets. Kepler's ideas were not immediately accepted. Galileo for example completely ignored Kepler's work. Kepler proposed heliocentrism as a physical description of the solar system and Epitome astronomia Copernicanae was placed on the index of prohibited books despite Kepler being a protestant.

Publication of Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems[]

Pope Urban VIII encouraged Galileo to publish the pros and cons of Heliocentrism. In the event, Galileo's Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems clearly advocated heliocentrism and appeared to make fun of the Pope. Urban VIII became hostile to Galileo and he was again summoned to Rome.[67] Galileo's trial in 1633 involved making fine distinctions between "teaching" and "holding and defending as true". For advancing heliocentric theory Galileo was put under house arrest for the last few years of his life.

Theologian and pastor Thomas Schirrmacher, however, has argued:

"Contrary to legend, Galileo and the Copernican system were well regarded by church officials. Galileo was the victim of his own arrogance, the envy of his colleagues, and the politics of Pope Urban VIII. He was not accused of criticizing the Bible, but disobeying a papal decree."[68]

According to J. L. Heilbron, Catholic scientists have also:

"appreciated that the reference to heresy in connection with Galileo or Copernicus had no general or theological significance."
—Heilbron (1999)

Subsequent developments[]

The Church's opposition to heliocentrism as a literal description did not by any means imply opposition to all astronomy; indeed, it needed observational data to maintain its calendar. In support of this effort it allowed the cathedrals themselves to be used as solar observatories called meridiane; i.e., they were turned into "reverse sundials", or gigantic pinhole cameras, where the Sun's image was projected from a hole in a window in the cathedral's lantern onto a meridian line.

In 1664, Pope Alexander VII published his Index Librorum Prohibitorum Alexandri VII Pontificis Maximi jussu editus (Index of Prohibited Books, published by order of Alexander VII, P.M.) which included all previous condemnations of heliocentric books.[69] An annotated copy of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton was published in 1742 by Fathers le Seur and Jacquier of the Franciscan Minims, two Catholic mathematicians with a preface stating that the author's work assumed heliocentrism and could not be explained without the theory. In 1758 the Catholic Church dropped the general prohibition of books advocating heliocentrism from the Index of Forbidden Books.[70] Pope Pius VII approved a decree in 1822 by the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition to allow the printing of heliocentric books in Rome.

The view of modern science[]

The thinking that the heliocentric view was also not true in a strict sense was achieved in steps. That the Sun was not the center of the universe, but one of innumerable stars, was strongly advocated by the mystic Giordano Bruno. Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the status of the Sun as merely one star among many became increasingly obvious. By the 20th century, even before the discovery that there are many galaxies, it was no longer an issue.

Even if the discussion is limited to the solar system, the sun is not at the geometric center of any planet's orbit, but rather at one focus of the elliptical orbit. Furthermore, to the extent that a planet's mass cannot be neglected in comparison to the Sun's mass, the center of gravity of the solar system is displaced slightly away from the center of the Sun. (The masses of the planets, mostly Jupiter, amount to 0.14% of that of the Sun.) Therefore a hypothetical astronomer on an extrasolar planet would observe a "wobble" in his perception of the Sun's motion.

Giving up the whole concept of being "at rest" is related to the principle of relativity. While, assuming an unbounded universe, it was clear there is no privileged position in space, until postulation of the special theory of relativity by Albert Einstein, at least the existence of a privileged class of inertial systems absolutely at rest was assumed, in particular in the form of the hypothesis of the luminiferous aether. Some forms of Mach's principle consider the frame at rest with respect to the masses in the universe to have special properties.

Modern use of geocentric and heliocentric[]

In modern calculations, the origin and orientation of a coordinate system often have to be selected, for practical reasons, and in such systems the origin in the mass, solar mass or the center of mass of the solar system are frequently selected. However, such selection of coordinates has only practical implications and not philosophical or physical ones.

See also[]


  1. Dennis Duke, Ptolemy's Universe
  2. Sidharth, B. G. (1999). The Celestial Key to the Vedas: Discovering the Origins of the World's Oldest Civilization. Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions International. pp. 45. ISBN 0-89281-753-4. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Teresi (2002).
  4. Kak (2000), p. 31.
  5. "Satapatha Brahmana". http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbr/sbe43/sbe4328.htm. Retrieved on 2009-08-05. 
  6. Arenarius, I., 4–7
  7. D.Rawlins, Aristarchus's vast universe: ancient vision, contends that all of Aristarchus's huge astronomical estimates of distance were based upon his gauging the limit of human visual discrimination to be approximately a ten thousandth of a radian which is about right.
  8. [1] [2]
  9. "Seleucus of Seleucia (c. 190 BC-?)". Adsabs.harvard.edu. doi:10.1888/0333750888. http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2000eaa..bookE3998. Retrieved on 2009-08-08. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Seleucus and the Proof of Heliocentrism, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, University of California, Berkeley
  11. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Waerden-572
  12. Lucio Russo, Flussi e riflussi, Feltrinelli, Milano, 2003, ISBN 88-07-10349-4.
  13. "All Islamic astronomers from Thabit ibn Qurra in the ninth century to Ibn al-Shatir in the fourteenth, and all natural philosophers from al-Kindi to Averroes and later, are known to have accepted ... the Greek picture of the world as consisting of two spheres of which one, the celestial sphere ... concentrically envelops the other." A. I. Sabra, "Configuring the Universe: Aporetic, Problem Solving, and Kinematic Modeling as Themes of Arabic Astronomy," Perspectives on Science 6.3 (1998): 288–330, at pp. 317–18
  14. 14.0 14.1 Teresi, et al. (2002).
  15. Reseach Committee of Strasburg University, Imam Jafar Ibn Muhammad As-Sadiq A.S. The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher, translated by Kaukab Ali Mirza, 2000. Willowdale Ont. ISBN 0969949014.
  16. (Nasr 1993, p. 77)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Qadir (1989), p. 5–10.
  18. Nicolaus Copernicus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2004).
  19. Roshdi Rashed (2007). "The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 17, p. 7–55. Cambridge University Press.
  20. Michael E. Marmura (1965). "An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for Its Study by the Ikhwan Al-Safa'an, Al-Biruni, and Ibn Sina by Seyyed Hossein Nasr", Speculum 40 (4), p. 744–746.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Saliba (1999).
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 A. Baker, L. Chapter (2002).
  23. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir 2/95
  24. 24.0 24.1 Adi Setia (2004), "Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi on Physics and the Nature of the Physical World: A Preliminary Survey", Islam & Science 2, https://archive.is/1JkRs, retrieved on 2 March 2010 
  25. Al-Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaaf 1/125
  26. Ebussuud Efendi, Irshadu'l-Akli's-Selim 1/61
  27. William Stahl, trans., Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, vol. 2, The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, 854, 857, (New York: Columbia Univ. Pr, 1977, pp. 332–3
  28. Bruce S. Eastwood, "Kepler as Historian of Science: Precursors of Copernican Heliocentrism according to De revolutionibus I, 10", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 126 (1982): 367–394.
  29. Eastwood, Bruce S. (2007). Ordering the Heavens: Roman Astronmomy and Cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance. Leiden: Brill. pp. 244-259. ISBN 978-90-04-16186-3. 
  30. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia, 2.12, p. 103, cited in Koyré (1957), p. 17.
  31. "Index of Ancient Greek Philosophers-Scientists". Ics.forth.gr. http://www.ics.forth.gr/~vsiris/ancient_greeks/hellinistic_period.html. Retrieved on 2009-08-08. 
  32. Bartel Leendert van der Waerden (1987). "The Heliocentric System in Greek, Persian and Hindu Astronomy", Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 500 (1), 525–545 [527–529].
  33. Shlomo Pines (1986), Studies in Arabic versions of Greek texts and in mediaeval science, 2, Brill Publishers, pp. viii & 201–17, ISBN 9652236268 
  34. Bartel Leendert van der Waerden (1987). "The Heliocentric System in Greek, Persian and Hindu Astronomy", Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 500 (1), 525–545 [534–537].
  35. Eloise Hart (April-May 1973), "Pages of Medieval Mideastern History", Sunrise 22, http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sunrise/22-72-3/rel-elo2.htm, retrieved on 26 March 2010 
  36. Nicolaus Copernicus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2004).
  37. Roshdi Rashed (2007). "The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 17, p. 7–55. Cambridge University Press.
  38. E. S. Kennedy, "Al-Bīrūnī's Masudic Canon", Al-Abhath, 24 (1971): 59–81; reprinted in David A. King and Mary Helen Kennedy, ed., Studies in the Islamic Exact Sciences, Beirut, 1983, pp. 573–595.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Khwarizm, Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.
  40. G. Wiet, V. Elisseeff, P. Wolff, J. Naudu (1975). History of Mankind, Vol 3: The Great medieval Civilisations, p. 649. George Allen & Unwin Ltd, UNESCO.
  41. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Wiet
  42. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1993), An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, p. 135-136. State University of New York Press, ISBN 0791415163.
  43. 43.0 43.1 M. Gill (2005).
  44. Covington (2007).
  45. B. L. van der Waerden (1970), Das heliozentrische System in der griechischen,persischen und indischen Astronomie, Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich, Zürich: Kommissionsverlag Leeman AG. (cf. Noel Swerdlow (June 1973), "Review: A Lost Monument of Indian Astronomy", Isis 64 (2), p. 239–243.)
    B. L. van der Waerden (1987), "The heliocentric system in Greek, Persian, and Indian astronomy", in "From deferent to equant: a volume of studies in the history of science in the ancient and medieval near east in honor of E. S. Kennedy", New York Academy of Sciences 500, p. 525–546. (cf. Dennis Duke (2005), "The Equant in India: The Mathematical Basis of Ancient Indian Planetary Models", Archive for History of Exact Sciences 59, p. 563–576.).
  46. Thurston (1994), p. 188.
    "Not only did Aryabhata believe that the earth rotates, but there are glimmerings in his system (and other similar systems) of a possible underlying theory in which the earth (and the planets) orbits the sun, rather than the sun orbiting the earth. The evidence is that the basic planetary periods are relative to the sun."
  47. Lucio Russo (2004), The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had To Be Reborn, Springer, Berlin, ISBN 978-3-540-20396-4. (cf. Dennis Duke (2005), "The Equant in India: The Mathematical Basis of Ancient Indian Planetary Models", Archive for History of Exact Sciences 59, p. 563–576.)
  48. Noel Swerdlow (June 1973), "Review: A Lost Monument of Indian Astronomy" [review of B. L. van der Waerden, Das heliozentrische System in der griechischen, persischen und indischen Astronomie], Isis 64 (2), p. 239–243.
    "Such an interpretation, however, shows a complete misunderstanding of Indian planetary theory and is flatly contradicted by every word of Aryabhata's description."
  49. David Pingree (1973), "The Greek Influence on Early Islamic Mathematical Astronomy", Journal of the American Oriental Society 93 (1), p. 32.
    "The reader should note that, in writing this survey, I have disregarded the rather divergent views of B. L. van der Waerden; these have been most recently expounded in his Das heliozentrische System in der griechischen, persischen und indischen Astronomie, Zürich 1970."
  50. Dennis Duke (2005), "The Equant in India: The Mathematical Basis of Ancient Indian Planetary Models", Archive for History of Exact Sciences 59, p. 563–576 [3].
    "Thus for both outer and inner planets, the mean motion given is the heliocentric mean motion of the planet. There is no textual evidence that the Indians knew anything about this, and there is an overwhelming amount of textual evidence confirming their geocentric point of view. Some commentators, most notably van der Waerden, have however argued in favor of an underlying ancient Greek heliocentric basis, of which the Indians were unaware. See, e.g. B. L. van der Waerden, “The heliocentric system in greek, persian, and indian astronomy”, in From deferent to equant: a volume of studies in the history of science in the ancient and medieval near east in honor of E. S. Kennedy, Annals of the new york academy of sciences, 500 (1987), 525–546. More recently this idea is developed in about as much detail as the scant evidence allows in L. Russo, The Forgotten Revolution (2004)."
  51. Joseph (2000).
  52. Thurston (1994).
  53. George G. Joseph (2000), p. 408.
  54. K. Ramasubramanian, M. D. Srinivas, M. S. Sriram (1994). "Modification of the earlier Indian planetary theory by the Kerala astronomers (c. 1500 AD) and the implied heliocentric picture of planetary motion", Current Science 66, p. 784–790.
  55. Owen Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read (Heinman, 2004, p. 51)
  56. Dreyer (1953, p.138); Plutarch (1957, p.55) (on-line copy available). According to a footnote in the latter reference, Diogenes Laertius listed a work of Cleanthes' (apparently now lost) with the title Against Aristarchus (Plutarch, 1957, p.54).
  57. Dreyer (1953, pp.139ff).
  58. Rosen (1995, p.159). Rosen disputes the earlier conclusion of another scholar that this was referring specifically to Copernicus's theory. According to Rosen, Calvin had very likely never heard of Copernicus and was referring instead to "the traditional geokinetic cosmology".
  59. Rosen, Edward (1960), Calvin’s attitude toward Copernicus in Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 21, no. 3, July, pp.431–441. Reprinted in Rosen (1995, pp.161–171).
  60. Gingerich, Owen (2004), The Book Nobody Read. New York: Walker and Co.
  61. Hooykaas, R. (1973). Religion and the rise of modern science. Reprint, Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1977.
  62. Bye, Dan J. (2007). McGrath vs Russell on Calvin vs Copernicus: a case of the pot calling the kettle black? in The Freethinker, volume 127, no. 6, June, pp.8–10. Available online here.
  63. Fantoli, 2003, p. 109
  64. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers (Penguin Arkana, 1989 p. 433)
  65. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers (Penguin Arkana, 1989 p. 468)
  66. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers (Penguin Arkana, 1989 p. 469)
  67. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers (Penguin Arkana, 1989 p. 491)
  68. Schirrmacher, Thomas. "The Galileo affair: history or heroic hagiography?". Answersingenesis.org. http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v14/i1/galileo.asp. Retrieved on 2009-08-08. 
  69. "The Pontifical Decrees Against the Doctrine of the Earth's Movement, and the Ultramontane Defence of Them", Rev. William Roberts, 1885, London
  70. John L.Heilbron, Censorship of Astronomy in Italy after Galileo (in McMullin, Ernan ed., The Church and Galileo, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 2005, p. 307, IN. ISBN 0-268-03483-4)


  • Ajram, K. (1992). Miracle of Islamic Science, Appendix B. Knowledge House Publishers. ISBN 0911119434.
  • Baker, A. and Chapter, L. (2002), "Part 4: The Sciences". In M. M. Sharif, "A History of Muslim Philosophy", Philosophia Islamica.
  • Blavatsky, Helena P. (1877). Isis Unveiled. Theosophical University Press. ISBN 0-911500-03-0.
  • Covington, Richard (May-June 2007). "Rediscovering Arabic science", Saudi Aramco World, p. 2–16.
  • Dreyer, J.L.E. (1953). A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler. New York, NY: Dover Publications. http://www.archive.org/details/historyofplaneta00dreyuoft. 
  • Fantoli, Annibale (2003). Galileo—For Copernicanism and the Church, 3rd English edition, tr. George V. Coyne, SJ. Vatican Observatory Publications, Notre Dame, IN. ISBN 88-209-7427-4.
  • Gill, M. (2005). Was Muslim Astronomy the Harbinger of Copernicanism?
  • Haug, Martin (1863). The Aitareya Brahmanam of the Rigveda, Containing the Earliest Speculations of the Brahmans on the Meaning of the Sacrificial Prayers. ISBN 0-404-57848-9.
  • Heath, T.L. (1913). Aristarchus of Samos, the ancient Copernicus: a history of Greek astronomy to Aristarchus, Oxford, Clarendon. ISBN 0-486-24188-2 (1981 Dover reprint).
  • Heilbron, J. L. (1999). The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. ISBN 0-674-85433-0.
  • Hoyle, Sir Fred (1973). Nicolaus Copernicus. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London. ISBN 0-435-54425-X.
  • Joseph, George G. (2000). The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics, 2nd edition. Penguin Books, London. ISBN 0691006598.

  • Koestler, Arthur, (1959) The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe, Penguin Books; 1986 edition: ISBN 0-14-055212-X, 1990 reprint: ISBN 0-14-019246-8
  • Koyré, Alexandre (1957). From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr.
  • Kuhn, Thomas S. (1957). The Copernican Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr. ISBN 0-674-17103-9
  • Kak, Subhash C. (2000). 'Birth and Early Development of Indian Astronomy'. In Selin, Helaine (2000). Astronomy Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy (303–340). Boston: Kluwer. ISBN 0-7923-6363-9.
  • Plutarch (1957). Plutarch's Moralia in Fifteen Volumes, XII. Loeb Classical Library edition, translated by Harold Cherniss and William C. Helmbold. London: William Heinemann. 
  • Qadir, Asghar (1989). Relativity: An Introduction to the Special Theory. World Scientific. ISBN 9971506122.
  • Sabra, A. I. (1998). "Configuring the Universe: Aporetic, Problem Solving, and Kinematic Modeling as Themes of Arabic Astronomy," Perspectives on Science 6, p. 288–330.
  • Rosen, Edward (1995). Copernicus and his Successors. London: Hambledon Press. ISBN 1 85285 071 X. 
  • Saliba, George (1999). Whose Science is Arabic Science in Renaissance Europe? Columbia University.
  • Teresi, Dick (2002). Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science - from the Babylonians to the Maya. Simon & Schuster, New York. ISBN 0-684-83718-8.
  • Roger Hart, Jamil Ragep, Dick Teresi (2002). "Ancient Roots of Modern Science", Talk of the Nation (NPR discussion of intercultural scientific contacts; astronomy is discussed in the first fifteen-minute segment).
  • Thurston, Hugh (1994). Early Astronomy. Springer-Verlag, New York. ISBN 0-387-94107-X.
  • Walker, Christopher, ed. (1996). Astronomy before the telescope. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-1746-3