The explanation of the movement of an outer planet like Mars could also be deduced from the joint effect of two perfect motions. The changes through which Mars goes are, however, so different from the movements of Venus that quite a different disposition of the circles is necessary. For consider the facts which characterise the movements of an outer planet such as Mars. In the first place, Mars accomplishes an entire circuit of the heaven. In this respect, no doubt, it may be said to resemble the sun or the moon. A little attention will, however, show that there are extraordinary irregularities in the movement of the planet. Generally speaking, it speeds its way from west to east among the stars, but sometimes the attentive observer will note that the speed with which the planet advances is slackening, and then it will seem to become stationary. Some days later the direction of the planet's movement will be reversed, and it will be found moving from the east towards the west. At first it proceeds slowly and then quickens its pace, until a certain speed is attained, which afterwards declines until a second stationary position is reached. After a due pause the original motion from west to east is resumed, and is continued until a similar cycle of changes again commences. Such movements as these were obviously quite at variance with any perfect movement in a single circle round the earth. Here, again, the geometrical sagacity of Ptolemy provided him with the means of representing the apparent movements of Mars, and, at the same time, restricting the explanation to those perfect movements which he deemed so essential. In Fig. 2 we exhibit Ptolemy's theory as to the movement of Mars. We have, as before, the earth at the centre, and the sun describing its circular orbit around that centre. The path of Mars is to be taken as exterior to that of the sun. We are to suppose that at a point marked M there is a fictitious planet, which revolves around the earth uniformly, in a circle called the DEFERENT. This point M, which is thus animated by a perfect movement, is the centre of a circle which is carried onwards with M, and around the circumference of which Mars revolves uniformly. It is easy to show that the combined effect of these two perfect movements is to produce exactly that displacement of Mars in the heavens which observation discloses. In the position represented in the figure, Mars is obviously pursuing a course which will appear to the observer as a movement from west to east. When, however, the planet gets round to such a position as R, it is then moving from east to west in consequence of its revolution in the moving circle, as indicated by the arrowhead. On the other hand, the whole circle is carried forward in the opposite direction. If the latter movement be less rapid than the former, then we shall have the backward movement of Mars on the heavens which it was desired to explain. By a proper adjustment of the relative lengths of these arms the movements of the planet as actually observed could be completely accounted for.
The other outer planets with which Ptolemy was acquainted, namely, Jupiter and Saturn, had movements of the same general character as those of Mars. Ptolemy was equally successful in explaining the movements they performed by the supposition that each planet had perfect rotation in a circle of its own, which circle itself had perfect movement around the earth in the centre.
It is somewhat strange that Ptolemy did not advance one step further, as by so doing he would have given great simplicity to his system. He might, for instance, have represented the movements of Venus equally well by putting the centre of the moving circle at the sun itself, and correspondingly enlarging the circle in which Venus revolved. He might, too, have arranged that the several circles which the outer planets traversed should also have had their centres at the sun. The planetary system would then have consisted of an earth fixed at the centre, of a sun revolving uniformly around it, and of a system of planets each describing its own circle around a moving centre placed in the sun. Perhaps Ptolemy had not thought of this, or perhaps he may have seen arguments against it. This important step was, however, taken by Tycho. He considered that all the planets revolved around the sun in circles, and that the sun itself, bearing all these orbits, described a mighty circle around the earth. This point having been reached, only one more step would have been necessary to reach the glorious truths that revealed the structure of the solar system. That last step was taken by Copernicus.
[PLATE: THORN, FROM AN OLD PRINT.]
The quaint town of Thorn, on the Vistula, was more than two centuries old when Copernicus was born there on the 19th of February, 1473. The situation of this town on the frontier between Prussia and Poland, with the commodious waterway offered by the river, made it a place of considerable trade. A view of the town, as it was at the time of the birth of Copernicus, is here given. The walls, with their watch-towers, will be noted, and the strategic importance which the situation of Thorn gave to it in the fifteenth century still belongs thereto, so much so that the German Government recently constituted the town a fortress of the first class.
Copernicus, the astronomer, whose discoveries make him the great predecessor of Kepler and Newton, did not come from a noble family, as certain other early astronomers have done, for his father was a tradesman. Chroniclers are, however, careful to tell us that one of his uncles was a bishop. We are not acquainted with any of those details of his childhood or youth which are often of such interest in other cases where men have risen to exalted fame. It would appear that the young Nicolaus, for such was his Christian name, received his education at home until such time as he was deemed sufficiently advanced to be sent to the University at Cracow. The education that he there obtained must have been in those days of a very primitive description, but Copernicus seems to have availed himself of it to the utmost. He devoted himself more particularly to the study of medicine, with the view of adopting its practice as the profession of his life. The tendencies of the future astronomer were, however, revealed in the fact that he worked hard at mathematics, and, like one of his illustrious successors, Galileo, the practice of the art of painting had for him a very great interest, and in it he obtained some measure of success.
By the time he was twenty-seven years old, it would seem that Copernicus had given up the notion of becoming a medical practitioner, and had resolved to devote himself to science. He was engaged in teaching mathematics, and appears to have acquired some reputation. His growing fame attracted the notice of his uncle the bishop, at whose suggestion Copernicus took holy orders, and he was presently appointed to a canonry in the cathedral of Frauenburg, near the mouth of the Vistula.
To Frauenburg, accordingly, this man of varied gifts retired. Possessing somewhat of the ascetic spirit, he resolved to devote his life to work of the most serious description. He eschewed all ordinary society, restricting his intimacies to very grave and learned companions, and refusing to engage in conversation of any useless kind. It would seem as if his gifts for painting were condemned as frivolous; at all events, we do not learn that he continued to practise them. In addition to the discharge of his theological duties, his life was occupied partly in ministering medically to the wants of the poor, and partly with his researches in astronomy and mathematics. His equipment in the matter of instruments for the study of the heavens seems to have been of a very meagre description. He arranged apertures in the walls of his house at Allenstein, so that he could observe in some fashion the passage of the stars across the meridian. That he possessed some talent for practical mechanics is proved by his construction of a contrivance for raising water from a stream, for the use of the inhabitants of Frauenburg. Relics of this machine are still to be seen.