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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/114

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

nicus was received by him on the footing of a friend and helper, rather than as a pupil; and the association was, without doubt, of great benefit to the younger man. All the systematized knowledge of the time was opened to him; what was known was examined and discussed, not received uncritically. Best of all, observation was practised as a test of theory and as the only basis for its advancement.

The first recorded observation of Copernicus is an occultation of Aldebaran by the moon in 1497 at Bologna; in 1500 he observed a conjunction of Saturn with the moon at the same place, and a lunar eclipse at Rome. Other eclipses were observed in 1509, 1511, 1522 and 1523; and positions of Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 1512, 1514, 1518, 1520, 1523, 1526, 1527, 1529, 1532, 1537. These recorded observations extend over a period of forty years. Though they are few in number, there is no reason to doubt that they are merely excerpts from a more considerable collection. They were made with very simple wooden instruments constructed by the observer's own hands. One of them, a triquetum, was sent as a present to Tycho Brahé in 1584, forty-one years after the death of Copernicus. It was made of pine wood, eight feet long, with two equal cross arms. They were divided, in ink, into 1,000 equal parts, and the long arm into 1,414 parts. This precious relic, together with a portrait of Copernicus, was long preserved in Tycho 's observatory at Uraniborg, and finally removed to Bohemia, where it perished in the confusions incident to the Thirty Years' War (1618-48).

Rheticus once urged upon him the need of making astronomical observations with all imaginable accuracy. Copernicus laughed at his friend for being disturbed about so small an error as a minute of arc, and declared that if he were sure of his observations to ten minutes, he would be as pleased as was Pythagoras when he discovered the properties of the right-angled triangle. Copernicus determined the latitude of Frauenburg to be 54° 19½', which is 2' too small. This seems to us a large error. Even with his instruments he could have been more precise if he had repeated his observations many times. But the determination was excellent for the times, as we may see by remembering that the latitude of Paris was given by Tycho as 48° 10', by Fernel as 48° 40', by Vieta as 48° 49', by Kepler as 48° 39'. His calculated longitude of Spica Virginis, which he took as a standard star, was 40' in error. He concluded that Krakau and Frauenburg were on the same meridian—an error of 17½' of arc. The observations of Albategnius, five centuries earlier, were far more precise, and this was not entirely owing to the superiority of the Arab instruments.

At the University of Bologna Copernicus mastered Greek. The knowledge was subsequently utilized in a translation into Latin of the epistles of Theophylactos Simokatta (630 A. D.), which he printed in