Definitions

Copernican system

Copernican system

[koh-pur-ni-kuhs, kuh-]
Copernican system, first modern European theory of planetary motion that was heliocentric, i.e., that placed the sun motionless at the center of the solar system with all the planets, including the earth, revolving around it. Copernicus developed his theory in the early 16th cent. from a study of ancient astronomical records. He retained the ancient belief that the planets move in perfect circles and therefore, like Ptolemy, he was forced to utilize epicycles to explain deviations from uniform motion (see Ptolemaic system). Thus, the Copernican system was technically only a slight improvement over the Ptolemaic system. However, making the solar system heliocentric removed the largest epicycle and explained retrograde motion in a natural way. By liberating astronomy from a geocentric viewpoint, Copernicus paved the way for Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Newton's embracing theory of universal gravitation, which describes the force that holds the planets in their orbits.

See E. Rosen, Copernicus and His Successors (1995); T. S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (1997).

or Copernican principle

Model of the solar system centred on the Sun, with Earth and other planets revolving around it, formulated by Nicolaus Copernicus in the mid 16th century. Having the Sun in this central position explained the apparent motion of planets relative to the fixed stars and was truer than the Earth-centred Ptolemaic system (see Ptolemy). Scientifically, the Copernican system led to belief in a much larger universe than before (because, if the Earth revolved around the Sun, the stars would have to be very distant not to appear to alter their position); more broadly, the Copernican principle is invoked to argue against any theory that would give the solar system a special place in the universe. Dethronement of Earth from the centre of the universe caused profound shock: the Copernican system challenged the entire system of ancient authority and required a complete change in the philosophical conception of the universe.

Learn more about Copernican system with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Copernican means of or pertaining to the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus

See also

Search another word or see copernican systemon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature