When Myth Caved in to Science

Image diagram of Heliocentrism.
Heliocentric Solar System

Earth is not at the Center

Heliocentrism, or heliocentricism, is the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around a relatively stationary Sun at the center of the Solar System. The word comes from the Greek (ἥλιος helios “sun” and κέντρον kentron “center”). Historically, heliocentrism was opposed to geocentrism, which placed the Earth at the center. The notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun had been proposed as early as the 3rd century BC by Aristarchus of Samos, but at least in the post-Ancient world Aristarchus’s heliocentrism attracted little attention—possibly because of the loss of scientific works of the Hellenistic Era —until Copernicus revived and elaborated it.

It was not until the 16th century that a fully predictive mathematical model of a heliocentric system was presented, by the Renaissance mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic cleric Nicolaus Copernicus, leading to the Copernican Revolution. In the following century, Johannes Kepler elaborated upon and expanded this model to include elliptical orbits, and supporting observations made using a telescope were presented by Galileo Galilei.

With the observations of William Herschel, Friedrich Bessel, and others, astronomers realized that the sun was not the center of the universe as heliocentrists at the time of Copernicus had supposed. By the 1920s Edwin Hubble had shown that it was part of a galaxy (the Milky Way) that was only one of many billions.


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