April 2, 2020

22.06.10- Nicholas Copernicus Revealed.

A new chapter in the final saga of one of astronomy’s greats concluded recently, as the remains of Nicholas Copernicus were reburied at Frombork Cathedral last month. The ceremony came after years of forensic detective work to positively identify the astronomer’s remains. Copernicus is famous for introducing the Sun-centered or heliocentric theory of the solar system in his landmark work, De Revolutionibus, which was later banned by the church. It was known that Copernicus was buried underneath the church, but gaining a positive ID from the dozens of skeletons interred had proven difficult. Copernicus was known to have died at age 70, a rarity in the 16th century. This narrowed down the field of “Copernicus skeleton candidates” to two unearthed in 2005. But the real breakthrough came when a hair was discovered in the pages of a book contained in Copernicus’s personal library. The DNA allowed a positive match to the anonymous remains of a man who shook the foundations of medieval thinking and led the way for modern astronomy…it always amazes us how they simply “lost” things in the olden days! On May 22nd, 2010, nearly 467 years to the date of his death, Copernicus was given a proper burial at Frombork with all of the pomp he was due. The sarcophagus will now be overlain with a glass viewing tile, and the original marker and monument to Copernicus will remain. This symbolic gesture is representative of the long reconciliation process that has occurred over the last few decades between the Roman Catholic Church and science. While some may see it as superfluous, such examples of the church coming to terms with Copernicus, Darwin, or Galileo represent a confluence of ideologies and show that religious dogma does not always have to be anathema to science.

29.9.9: Can you Spot the Cave in Copernicus?

I’ve got a unique challenge for you, as you brush up on your lunar geography in anticipation for next weeks’ LCROSS impact. Next time you’re viewing the waxing gibbous Moon with your friends, amaze them (or make them think your totally crazy) by issuing the off-handed remark; “Did you know that there is a ‘cave’ in the crater Copernicus? The “cave” in question is, of course, an optical illusion. Its interesting to note, however, that in the pre-Apollo era, would-be Selenographers were faced with a lunar landscape that was much less straight forward. This first came to our attention while reading a February 2003 article in Sky & Telescope written by Steven O’Meara. The cave itself rests on the northern inner lip of the crater and is elusive unless caught at the precise sun-angle of 10.7 degrees above the local lunar horizon. This generally occurs around 10-12 days of age, and I encourage you to take a look early this week. [Read more...]

Astro-Event of the Week, September 9th-15th, 2008: Mercury Reaches Greatest Elongation.

Mercury is an elusive world.

Legend has it that Nicholas Copernicus himself never spotted the fleeting world. This week, Mercury reaches greatest elongation, and provides us with a chance to top one of the greats. [Read more...]

A Voyage to the Inner-Most Planet

The Solar System has just become a little more known. This year our view of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, has changed as the Messenger spacecraft completes its first flyby of the little known world. Late in the afternoon last week, I braved the January cold to peer west. There, in the dusk twilight, was a single shining point below the crescent Moon.

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