Wandering in Circles at Super Moon: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Feb 18, 2019

Copernicus placed the Sun at the center of our system, to explain planetary motion, but assumed the motion was circular, rather than elliptical.

There's a Full Moon this week, the closest one of the year in fact, which lends itself to the illustrious anniversaries that also happen every year at this time.

There's President's day, honoring the births of Washington and Lincoln; and this is the week that Michelangelo died, in 1564; then there's the English Romantic Poet John Keats, who also died this week in 1821; and for the astronomy world, it's the anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish astronomer who formulated a model of our universe that placed the Sun, not the Earth, at the center.

Now even though it's the birthday of Copernicus this week, I want to talk about his death, or more specifically, about his bones. You see, the bones of Copernicus were laid in an unmarked grave in the Frombork Cathedral where he worked, and though there is no actual record of his death, there is historical record that on a certain date, someone else assumed his position there.

But then in August 2005, the Earth yielded up her secrets, and the bones were uncovered, where they had lain for several centuries, beneath the cool marble slabs of the cathedral where Copernicus had done is naked-eye observing of the heavens.

So think back to August 2005: The storm winds of Hurricane Katrina whipped fiercely against the Gulf Coast, and then one year later, the International Astronomer's Union gathered in Prague, to address the issue of how to define a planet. The word planet, from the Greek, means "wandering star", and when Copernicus published his research 500 years ago, the Earth was not yet considered a planet, because it wasn't wandering! But in 2005, his bones were uncovered, and then the definition of what is a planet emerged.

When the Moon comes Full on Tuesday, it will be closer than any other Moon all year. This is because the Moon, like all of the planets, orbits in an ellipse. But Copernicus didn't know that. He thought everything was wandering in circles.