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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/122

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

not, in fact, generally received until the day of Newton, though it was sufficiently established by the observations of Galileo and convincingly by the calculations of Kepler. To actually demonstrate the rotation of the earth on its axis we must have recourse to an elaborate experiment like that of Foucault on the pendulum, or to comparisons of the force of gravity in different latitudes; to demonstrate its revolution round the sun it is necessary to measure the time required for light to reach us from the distant planets, or to evaluate the aberration of the light of the fixed stars. It was not easy for the sixteenth century to make a decision. If the heliocentric theory were true, then the planet Venus must show phases like the moon; but no phases could be seen. It required Galileo's telescope to show them. Moreover, the fixed stars must have annual apparent displacements in miniature orbits. None such were visible; none were detected until 1837, when Bessel determined the parallax of a fixed star (61 Cygni) for the first time. Galileo sought for them in vain; so did Herschel; so did other astronomers of the eighteenth century with their splendid instruments. The conception of epicycles was retained in the 'De Revolutionibus,' and it seems to us a blemish; to the contemporaries of Copernicus it was a mere analytic device. Newton explains one of the inequalities of the moon's motion by an epicycle, in the 'Principia.'

It is only when we thus consider in detail how the new ideas must have presented themselves to the students of the sixteenth century that we can comprehend the real obstacles in the way of their acceptance. A genius like Kepler could receive them simply on their intellectual merits. Men in general required time to change their point of view, and to accept a novel and essentially disheartening theory. Ptolemy's system of the world was compendious, comfortable, so to say, and easily understanded of the people. Man's central position in the universe flattered his pride and allayed his fears.

Peter the Lombard (1100–60) expresses the accepted view in its baldest form: 'Just as Man is made for the sake of God, that is, that he may serve him, so the Universe is made for the sake of Man, that is, that it may serve him; therefore is Man placed at the middle point of the Universe, that he may both serve and be served.' The new view made man an outcast and placed him in immense and disquieting solitudes. Pascal has phrased the new and anxious fear: 'Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie.'

Astronomers needed accurate tables of the planetary motions in order to predict eclipses and conjunctions. The Alphonsine tables were quite unsatisfactory. The theory of Copernicus was made the basis of new tables—the Prutenic tables—by Reinhold in 1551, and they remained the standard until 1627, when the Rudolphine tables, based on Kepler's theories and Tycho's observations, superseded them.