Tributes to Kepler End Year of Astronomy|
November 16, 2009
In May Deutsche Bundesbank released a silver 10 euro commemorating Johannes Kepler. A few weeks later San Marino followed suit with a 5 euro. Both coins marked the International Year of Astronomy but also commemorated the 400th anniversary of publication of Kepler’s magnificent opus: Astronomia Nova (A New Astronomy).
The coins’ appearance completed an IYA numismatic salute to the heavenly trio of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, the 17th century fathers of modern astronomy.
Near Blind Genius
Kepler was born in 1571 in Germany. He was a sickly child but with a brilliant mind. Customers at his grandfather’s inn were astounded by his mathematical talent.
His mother showed him the Great Comet of 1577 and the lunar eclipse of 1580. However, smallpox had left him with crippled hands and impaired vision. He could see little of the heavens.
A good protestant education took him to university where he was recognized as a skillful astrologer. He opted to follow Copernicus in believing the planets revolved around the sun. A defense he wrote of Copernican science brought him to the attention of the renowned Tycho Brahe.
When Kepler was banished for refusing to convert to Catholicism, he got a job as Brahe’s assistant.
In 1601 Kepler took over for Brahe as imperial mathematician. His primary duty was astrologer to the emperor.
The next eight years saw Kepler publish two major works: Astronomiae Pars Optica (The Optical Part of Astronomy) and Astronomia Nova. In these he described major tenets of physics and astronomy such as the inverse-square law of the light intensity and the implications of parallax. Importantly he laid out his first two laws of planetary motion, showing that planets in general and Mars in particular follow elliptical and not circular orbits.
In 1604 Kepler observed a supernova. Whatever astrological portents it held, Kepler realized this new star implied the heavens were variable and not fixed.
Astronomer to the Stars
From 1611 on, political and religious strife, plus family illness and death, disrupted much of Kepler’s life. Nonetheless he completed his most influential work: Epitome Astronomia Copernicanae (Fundamentals of Copernican Astronomy). This study laid the basis for Newton’s subsequent analysis of gravity.
Kepler died in 1630. Today we name in his honor:
• Kepler’s laws of planetary motion
• The Kepler space mission launched by NASA designed to search for Earth-like planets
• The Johannes Kepler ATV that will re-supply the International Space Station from July 2010
• Kepler’s Star, the Supernova of 1604
• Kepler Crater on the moon
• Kepler Crater on Mars
• 1134 Kepler, an asteroid
• New Zealand’s Kepler Mountains and their Kepler Track to be walked at leisure or used as part of the annual five-day, 60-km Kepler Challenge.
And Kepler may well claim to be father of science fiction. His work Somnium (The Dream) describes a trip to the moon and interplanetary travel.
• Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes 4-CD Set, 1782-1866
• Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths About U.S. Coins
• 2010 Standard Catalog of World Coins 2001-Date, 4th Edition
• State Quarters Deluxe Collector's Folder
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