Father of Celestial Mechanicsby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Johannes Kepler, the son of a mercenary and an unpredictable mother, would be a “gold medalist in the history of science.” (Coppedge 2006) Being a scientist of the early 1600s, what does he have to do with modern space travel? How would Kepler, for great a scientist, was born into a strange family. Born in Weil, Swabia, Kepler had a killer for a daddy, offering his services to the highest bidder, and an unpredictable and superstitious mother, who was later accused of being a witch. His grandparents were a little closer to normal, but not better. Kepler’s Grandfather was the mayor of Weil, and his grandmother was just plain mean, Kepler himself described her as "restless, clever and lying, but devoted to religion; slim and of a fiery nature; vivacious, an inveterate troublemaker; jealous, extreme in her hatreds, violent, a bearer of grudges.” (Fowler 1996) As if his family wasn’t enough, young Kepler had Smallpox ; this sadly gave him crippled hands and impaired vision. Luckily, he was still able to see the object that spurred his interest in astronomy, the great comet of 1577.
Kepler’s brilliance was realized when he attended Tuebingen. Since Tuebingen was a Protestant school, Kepler was offered a scholarship because the school wanted clergymen to defend their faith. “Devout by nature, he decided he would serve God as a clergyman. He studied for two years in a seminary at the University of Tubingen, receiving training in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, mathematics and the usual Greek philosophy” (Coppedge 2006). At that time, when Kepler studied astronomy with Maestlin who, there was wide debate between two theories of how the universe runs, or how planets orbit each other. The first theory, the widely popular and religious Ptolemaic theory, stated that earth was the center of the universe. After a public debate between the previously mentioned theories, since Kepler defended the Copernicus theory, he was denied the job to act as faculty after he graduated and stopped being a clergy. (Fowler 1996) This forced him to travel to Graz, where he was offered a professorship in mathematics in 1594. While teaching his math and geometry classes, Kepler did some independent study in astronomy, and, in 1597 published his first important work. “The Cosmographic Mystery, in which he argued that the distances of the planets from the Sun in the Copernican system were determined by the five regular solids, if one supposed that a planet's orbit was circumscribed about one solid and inscribed in another.” (Helden 1995).
Six years later, Kepler was again forced to leave because of the Counter Reformation that forced all Protestants to either convert to Catholicism or leave. He could not even go back to Tuebingen; they didn’t want him back because he believed in the Copernican theory. At this point, God was at work in Kepler’s life. With nowhere to go, Kepler was pleasantly surprised when the great Tycho Brahe, “the best celestial observer of his day” (Coppedge 2006) invited him as a mathematician to “calculate new orbits for the planets from Tycho's observations.” (Helden 1995) Kepler wanted to prove the Copernican theory, but Tycho wanted to prove neither of the previous theories, instead a combination of the two. His theory stated that “the sun goes around the earth once a year and all the other planets go around the sun.” (Fowler 1996) Therefore, Tycho had no interest in proving the Copernican theory. God works in mysterious ways, for in 1601, Tycho died and Kepler inherited his calculations on mars that were previously withheld from him. He also acquired his job, as imperial mathematician “the most prestigious appointment in mathematics in Europe” (Helden 1995) under Rudolph II. During this time, Kepler made many great discoveries, seemingly every couple of years:
In Prague, Kepler published Astronomia pars optica (The optical part of astronomy, 1604), in which he dealt with refraction and gave the first modern explanation of the workings of the eye; De stella nova (Concerning the new star, 1606) on the "new" star that had appeared in 1604 (see Kepler's Star); and Astronomia nova (New astronomy, 1609), which contained his first two laws (planets move in elliptical orbits with the Sun at one focus, and a planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times). (Darling 2008)
Even though Kepler did indeed discover many things about our world and universe and greatly expanded our understanding about them, he still had a very difficult life over all, and never seemed to catch a break:
In a time of religious tumult and superstition, he (Kepler) seemed to be the only one with real wisdom and balance when poised between extreme positions. He had to defend his mother who was falsely accused of being a witch. He was forced to move on several occasions due to war or pestilence; three times in the prime of his career, and another three times after age 55. He was never paid near what he was worth; even then, it was often in the form of IOU’s that never seemed to arrive. His untimely death came about from catching fever during a hard journey trying to collect long-overdue funds owed him from the imperial treasury; even his heirs had difficulty collecting it later. (Coppedge 2006)
It is evident that Kepler had an unfortunate life, sacrificing time and brain power to give us a better understanding of God’s creation, which deserved praise but instead received IOUs and many hardships. However, Kepler was not doing it for money, fame, or any other reasons of the world, he was doing it for God alone. Kepler himself said “Let also my name perish if only the name of God the Father is elevated.” Until the very end, Kepler stayed true to God: “On November 15, 1630, as he lay dying, he was asked on what did he pin his hope of salvation. Confidently and resolutely, he testified: “Only and alone on the services of Jesus Christ. In Him is all refuge, all solace and welfare.”
How many works did Johannes Kepler publish?
What was Tycho’s secret theory of the universe?
A. The sun revolved around the earth once a year
B. The Sun was the center of the universe
C. The planets “not earth” revolved around the sun
D. A and C
Kepler’s Parents were
A. A witch and a mercenary
B. A soldier and a mayor
C. A superstitious freak and a mercenary
D. A mayor and a bad tempered woman
How many times did Kepler have to move based on his religion?
Answers: c, d, c, b
Coppedge, David F. Christian Safaries. June 5, 2006. http://www.creationsafaris.com/wgcs_1.htm#kepler.
Darling, David. the worlds of David Darling. November 15, 2008. http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/K/KeplerJ.html.
Fowler, Michael. Johannes Kepler . 1996. http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/1995/lectures/kepler.html.
Helden, Al Van. The Galileo Project. 1995. http://galileo.rice.edu/sci/kepler.html.