Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]

For the Week of 10/29/08

Assignment 9


Revolution of Revolutions

The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and the North Star (Polaris)

The North Star appears to be about 4.5 lengths (measured by Merak to Dubhe distance)from the tip of the bowl

of the Big Dipper and along the same line as the two stars indicated.  Polaris will not perceptably move in our lifetime

for all practical purposes and the Big Dipper (and all the other “fixed” stars) will rotate around it every 24 hours.

From our location, Polaris is approximately 41ľ above the horizon.

Question: Which way does it rotate?

Note: Stevens insists that I post midterm grades.  This is not my idea and I don’t like having to do it.

They are not a full reflection of your status, only a general idea.  If you don’t like your grade, the problem is most likely that you haven’t done all of the required homework.  Get me all of those first 3 homework assignments!  All of you are in striking distance of a B or better. 

Just so you know, the highest grade I will give at midterm is an A-.  It’s a motivational tool.  I will not look at the midterm grade when figuring out your final grade.  I will look at your overall numbers. 

The midterm grade is an imperfect shadow on the wall of your cave,

cast by the ideal perfection of what it really is as it passes in front of the illuminating fire of truthiness.

Look at this scale graphic of our solar system.  Scroll through the whole thing. You’ll notice why Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were not seen by the pre-moderns.

Scale Solar System


Here is another site with the same idea:

Scale Solar System updated


Read the chapter titled “Copernicus Incited a Revolution” in McClellan and Dorn.  (It is Chapter 11 in newer editions and chapter 10 in older editions.)  Look over this web page and as you read the McClellan and Dorn, follow along with the materials I have posted below. 

Read this web page entirely and play with the links provided. 

Browse over these parts of Kepler’s Mysterium cosmographicum (1596) – Kepler_MystCosmoExcerptsSm-OCRd-imaged-5.9MB.pdf. Don’t skip the title page and all the fluff.  The fluff is as interesting as the meat of the book. Just poke around this PDF and see if anything grabs your attention. 

Browse through these excerpts from Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica [On the fabric of the human body] from 1543.  Just look over the illustrations and study a few of them closely.


View this movie: Copernican explanation of the retrograde motion of Mars:

Write a 1.5, single-spaced essay….

            …. relating to the readings and viewings.  Refer to the readings and if possible relate to previous readings and other things you know.  Always feel free to experiment or go off on a tangent, just make sure to refer to the readings some way.


            …or perhaps find a passage from one of the Kepler readings I posted above.  Just find any part that you can latch onto and write on it, or about it, or paraphrase it, or incorporate it into an essay on a topic that it fits. Much of the material is hard to get, but here and there it is totally coherent. 

The following are selections from various astronomical texts from this period, usually referred to as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.

You should look at these as you read the McClellan and Dorn. 

This is a reproduction from the manuscript by Copernicus.

[available here:]

In comparing this with the printed version [below] I notice that the labels are below the circular lines rather than sitting above them as in the printed edition.  Also the sun is just a word and the moon is not shown at all.  Is this significant?  I really don’t know, but this manuscript drawing seems to more clearly imply a finite and contained universe, with the sphere of the fixed stars clearly enclosing the universe, whereas the printed version suggests something outside this sphere.  This is more of an issue with Aristotle, but later theological debates over the size of the universe and the possibility of other worlds might have been exacerbated by the somewhat ambiguous diagram in the printed version.


Here is a page from the first printed edition of 1542/3.


The Latin text above and below this diagram reads as follows.  The exact section shown in the page image above is in blue.


The sphere of the fixed stars is followed by the first of the planets, Saturn, which completes its circuit in 30 years. After Saturn, Jupiter accomplishes its revolution in 12 years. Then Mars revolves in 2 years. The annual revolution takes the series’ fourth place, which contains the earth, as I said [earlier in I, 10], together with the lunar sphere as an epicycle. In the fifth place Venus returns in 9 months. Lastly, the sixth place is held by Mercury, which revolves in a period of 80 days.


[You will note that the numbers on this diagram do not correspond with the text that surrounds this illustration. I have two theories for this. 1) This can be explained by the difference between cardinal and ordinal numbers.  In your first year of life you are not yet one year old. When you are finally one year old you are in your second year of life.  The diagram uses cardinal numbers while the description uses ordinal.  2) In the text Saturn is the first planetary sphere as distinguished from the sphere of fixed stars.  Either way, his presentation is a bit confusing.]


At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. [Hermes] the Thrice Greatest labels it a visible god, and Sophocles’ Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it. Moreover, the earth is not deprived of the moon’s attendance. On the contrary, as Aristotle says in a work on animals [De anima? On the Soul?], the moon has the closest kinship with the earth. Meanwhile the earth has intercourse with the sun, and is impregnated for its yearly parturition.


[The earth has “intercourse with the sun and is impregnated.”  That’s an interesting description.]


In this arrangement, therefore, we discover a marvelous symmetry of the universe, and an established harmonious linkage between the motion of the spheres  and their size, such as can be found in no other way. For this permits a not inattentive student to perceive why the forward and backward arcs appear greater in Jupiter than in Saturn and smaller than in Mars, and on the other hand greater in Venus than in Mercury. This reversal in direction appears more frequently in Saturn than in Jupiter, and also more rarely in Mars and Venus than in Mercury. Moreover, when Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars rise at sunset, they are nearer to the earth than when they set in the evening or appear at a later hour. But Mars in particular, when it shines all night, seems to equal Jupiter in size, being distinguished only by its reddish color. Yet in the other configurations it is found barely among the stars of the second magnitude, being recognized by those who track it with assiduous observations. All these phenomena proceed from the same cause, which is in the earth’s motion.


Copernicus, Nicholas. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium; Translated by Edward Rosen. New York: Dartmouth College, Sept. 1999 accessed 2004; Available from


Sun Centered Copernican System, first proposed in public in 1540.

Sun-Mercury-Venus-Earth (with moon)-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn-Starry Sphere

This image and the detail from it is from 1543, Book I, Chapter X of

On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Here are the translations of the spherical captions. 


I. Immobile sphere of the fixed stars

II. Saturn, is turned in 30 years

III. Twelve-year revolution of Jupiter

IV. Two-year revolution of Mars

V. Earth (Tellus), with the orb of the moon …[?] …

VI. Venus nine month return

VII. Mercury … [?] …80 days

VIII. The Sun

Martin Luther’s Comment on Copernicus

Cosmological System of Tycho Brahe, ca. 1577

It is earth centered, but all other bodies besides moon orbit the sun, which orbits the earth.


Given the date, why is Tycho’s theory somewhat odd?

Here is a FlashMovie of his system:  Tycho for Windows  or Tycho for Mac


The Systems if Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)


Detail from Kepler’s first cosmological system from Mysterium cosmographicum – detail of the cosmos.  (1596)

Full Image Link (with translated details- click on thumbnail)


"mi-fa-mi" [mp3]

Click on this link to hear the cosmos sing.


This link plays the music of the planets as Kepler’s mind’s ear heard them.  This piece produced by Produced by Willie Ruff and John Rodgers

starts with Mercury and keeps adding in planets (Venus, Earth, Mars…etc).  You can follow along by referring to the score below, which presents the planets in the opposite order.


Notice the eccentricities. The bigger the eccentricity the greater the interval the planet sweeps out in its song. 

Compare with the music directly above this chart. When viewed in this way, Kepler’s use of music is not quite so strange.

Tons of astronomical animations can be found here:

Last week I mentioned where Hg (Mercury) came from.  Here is the Roman architect, Vitruvius, on this issue. Vitruvius-excerpt-cinnabar-mercury-544KB.pdf It’s just a page or so long.  It is quite interesting because it covers mining, extraction, chemical and alchemical techniques, matter theory, and uses.  Need a point of two?  Write a modern theoretical counterpoint to Vitruvius’ description and some other thoughts that come to you.

Here are the citations for the above works:


Kepler, Johannes, and E. J. Aiton. The Secret of the Universe (Mysterium Cosmographicum). Translated by A.M. Duncan and with introduction and commentary by E.J. Aiton and a preface by I. Bernard Cohen. New York: Abaris Books, 1981.


McClellan, James E., and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology in World History : An Introduction. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Vitruvius, Dewar, Howe, and Rowland. Ten Books on Architecture (De Architectura Libri Decem). Translation from the Latin and commentary by Ingrid D. Rowland. Additional commentary by Michael J. Dewar. Illustrations and commentary by Thomas Noble Howe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 (from first century BC).



Back to Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]


Me –


Newsie stuff:


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There are no review materials for this page.  The page itself contains most of the material you should know.  Be sure to look over the Vesalius and the Kepler text links that I wanted you to “Browse Over.” 

Posted: 12/5/08 2:11 PM