Nicolaus Copernicus (/koʊˈpɜːrnɪkəs, kə-/; Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik;[b] Middle Low German: Niklas Koppernigk, German: Nikolaus Kopernikus; 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance polymath, active as a mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic canon, who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its center. In all likelihood, Copernicus developed his model independently of Aristarchus of Samos, an ancient Greek astronomer who had formulated such a model some eighteen centuries earlier.[c][d][e]
The publication of Copernicus’s model in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), just before his death in 1543, was a major event in the history of science, triggering the Copernican Revolution and making a pioneering contribution to the Scientific Revolution.
Copernicus was born and died in Royal Prussia, a region that had been part of the Kingdom of Poland since 1466. A polyglot and polymath, he obtained a doctorate in canon law and was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist. From 1497 he was a Warmian Cathedral chapter canon. In 1517 he derived a quantity theory of money—a key concept in economics—and in 1519 he formulated an economic principle that later came to be called Gresham’s law.[f]
Some time before 1514, Copernicus wrote an initial outline of his heliocentric theory known only from later transcripts, by the title (perhaps given to it by a copyist), Nicolai Copernici de hypothesibus motuum coelestium a se constitutis commentariolus—commonly referred to as the Commentariolus. It was a succinct theoretical description of the world’s heliocentric mechanism, without mathematical apparatus, and differed in some important details of geometric construction from De revolutionibus; but it was already based on the same assumptions regarding Earth’s triple motions. The Commentariolus, which Copernicus consciously saw as merely a first sketch for his planned book, was not intended for printed distribution. He made only a very few manuscript copies available to his closest acquaintances, including, it seems, several Kraków astronomers with whom he collaborated in 1515–30 in observing eclipses. Tycho Brahe would include a fragment from the Commentariolus in his own treatise, Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata, published in Prague in 1602, based on a manuscript that he had received from the Bohemian physician and astronomer Tadeáš Hájek, a friend of Rheticus. The Commentariolus would appear complete in print for the first time only in 1878.
In 1526 Kopernikus cooperated with Bernard Wapowski working out a map of the Königreich Polen–Großfürstentum Litauen, in 1529 he also made a map of Herzogtums Preußen. Georg Joachim Rheticus, professor in Wittenberg, came to work with Kopernikus for three years in Frauenburg, beginning in 1539.