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The Significance of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton

Updated on July 6, 2012
Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus | Source

Nicholas Copernicus

Nicholas Copernicus was born in 1473 and was a Renaissance man. While he studied law and medicine, it appeared that his true advances were in astronomy. Instead of blindly following the scriptural beliefs of his day, he argued that stars were further out than many thought they were, he determined the proper placement of the planets within the system, understood that there were multiple centers of gravity within the universe, and argued (and believed) that the planets went around the sun, rather than the sun going around the Earth. He didn’t have a perfect theory, but it was a lot closer to the truth than the theories currently believed at that time.

Galileo Galilei. Portrait by Ottavio Leoni.
Galileo Galilei. Portrait by Ottavio Leoni. | Source

Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 and believed in Copernicus’s theories. He was quite intelligent and good at what he did, proven when, unable to find a telescope to buy, he figured out how to make one, and then proceed to improve upon it within a year. He studied the contours of the moon, found four moons for Jupiter, and determined that there are numerous stars in the solar system. Galileo believed in doing experiments to prove things, and because of his work with experimentation he is considered the father of the modern scientific method. He wrote about everything he observed, which was a problem as the Church did not take kindly to much of what he wrote, and he was told to cease and desist. In the end he recanted, but continued his work as best as he could and had another publication between the time of his house arrest and before his death in 1642.

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton | Source

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton was born in 1642. Newton could also easily be considered a Renaissance Man, though he came at the end of the period. He worked with math, optics, and physics, and developed theories and laws in each that are still used today. While many people are probably not grateful for his work with binomials, the logarithms are still useful for computer science technicians. He invented the reflecting telescope, and worked with prisms. His two best known concepts are his theory of gravity and his law of motion (every action has an equal and opposite reaction).


These three men were important as scientists because they helped the thinking break free from the restraints set on them by the Church. They were interested in the what, why, and how, and pursued these questions. Newton was later than the others, which meant that he had more knowledge to work with, but he, like his predecessors, made the most of it. Without the theories developed by each, none would have been able to do their work.


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