Rheticus on TV

Rheticus on TV August 7, 2009

If Luther is the definitive Lutheran theologian, and Melanchthon is the definitive Lutheran scholar, and Cranach is the definitive Lutheran artist, and Bach is the definitive Lutheran musician, then Rheticus is the definitive Lutheran scientist.

A colleague of Luther and Melanchthon at the University of Wittenberg, Rheticus was the only pupil of Copernicus. He was the one who published Copernicus’s papers that promoted the revolutionary notion that the earth was not the center of the universe. Rheticus defended this position, which turned out to be true. Just as Luther overthrew human-centered theology, Rheticus overthrew human-centered science.

But he never gets any press, and hardly anybody has ever heard of him. Imagine my surprise to be surfing on the internet while my wife was watching a DVR of Warehouse 13, an X-Files wannabe on the SciFi–sorry, SyFy–network and hearing the characters talk about Rheticus. The story has Rheticus inventing a human teleportation device. And the picture they showed of him is really Melanchthon. Still.

Here is what he really looked like:

Rheticus


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  • Carl Vehse

    George Joachim Rheticus was certainly a shaker and mover in the world of astronomy and of high school trigonometry In 1540 Rheticus published Narratio Prima Excusum Gedani, the first book on the Copernican heliocentric system a few years before he convinced his dying friend, Copernicus, to publish his famous book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. And in 1551 Rheticus published his Canon of the doctrine of triangles, which was the first table to give all six trigonometrical functions, the first extensive table of tangents and the first table of secants.

    But Rheticus was not the only Lutheran scientist who had a significant impact on the world of science, in their own day or even into today.

  • Carl Vehse

    George Joachim Rheticus was certainly a shaker and mover in the world of astronomy and of high school trigonometry In 1540 Rheticus published Narratio Prima Excusum Gedani, the first book on the Copernican heliocentric system a few years before he convinced his dying friend, Copernicus, to publish his famous book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. And in 1551 Rheticus published his Canon of the doctrine of triangles, which was the first table to give all six trigonometrical functions, the first extensive table of tangents and the first table of secants.

    But Rheticus was not the only Lutheran scientist who had a significant impact on the world of science, in their own day or even into today.

  • Carl Vehse

    Erasmus Reinhold, a contemporary of Rheticus and astronomy professor at Wittenberg also recruited by Philip Melanchthon. Although Reinhold did not hold to the reality of the heliocentric model of Copernicus, he published a book of astronomical tables using the Copernican model as a mathematical tool. This resulted in a widespread dissemination of Copernicus’ model thoughout Europe.

    Tycho Brahe, an astronomer who, for doctrinal reasons, developed the Tychonian model, in which the planets revolved around the sun and the sun revolved around a fixed earth. Shortly before he died, Brahe hired Johannes Kepler as an assistant.

    Johannes Kepler, a Lutheran astronomer, who, along with Copernius believed the earth orbited the sun. Kepler was banished from his position in Austria for refusing to convert to Roman Catholicism and went to work for Tycho Brahe. Using Brahe’s data Kepler later developed his famous laws of planetary motion, and made important contributions to astronomy and optics. Later in life he was excommunicated from the Lutheran Church for refusing to accept the Formula of Concord’s position on the Lord’s Supper.

    Michael Maestlin, another Lutheran astronomer and parish deacon, who showed in 1577 that comets were supralunar, though he still believe they had astrological significance.

    Georg Samuel Doerffel, another Lutheran astronomer, pastor, and later Lutheran Superintendent at Weida, who presented proofs in 1681 that comets are heavenly bodies moving in parabolas of which the sun is the focus.

  • Carl Vehse

    Erasmus Reinhold, a contemporary of Rheticus and astronomy professor at Wittenberg also recruited by Philip Melanchthon. Although Reinhold did not hold to the reality of the heliocentric model of Copernicus, he published a book of astronomical tables using the Copernican model as a mathematical tool. This resulted in a widespread dissemination of Copernicus’ model thoughout Europe.

    Tycho Brahe, an astronomer who, for doctrinal reasons, developed the Tychonian model, in which the planets revolved around the sun and the sun revolved around a fixed earth. Shortly before he died, Brahe hired Johannes Kepler as an assistant.

    Johannes Kepler, a Lutheran astronomer, who, along with Copernius believed the earth orbited the sun. Kepler was banished from his position in Austria for refusing to convert to Roman Catholicism and went to work for Tycho Brahe. Using Brahe’s data Kepler later developed his famous laws of planetary motion, and made important contributions to astronomy and optics. Later in life he was excommunicated from the Lutheran Church for refusing to accept the Formula of Concord’s position on the Lord’s Supper.

    Michael Maestlin, another Lutheran astronomer and parish deacon, who showed in 1577 that comets were supralunar, though he still believe they had astrological significance.

    Georg Samuel Doerffel, another Lutheran astronomer, pastor, and later Lutheran Superintendent at Weida, who presented proofs in 1681 that comets are heavenly bodies moving in parabolas of which the sun is the focus.

  • Carl Vehse

    Ole Christensen Roemer, a Danish Lutheran astronomer, who discovered that the speed of light was finite. That discovery was important to our 20th century friend, Albert Einstein, and, in effect, turned the telescope into a time machine that could look into the past. Roemer’s contributions to science and his native Denmark go well beyond his accomplishments in astronomy and his position as professor of mathematics at the University of Copenhagen, and ultimately Astronomer Royal to King Christian V of Denmark. Roemer was an important inventor. He also served his country as the master of the mint, inspector of naval architecture, purveyor of harbors, and advisor on pyrotechnics and ballistics. He also reorganized and standardized the Danish systems of weights and measures. He headed a commission to inspect Denmark’s highways and helped make various trade agreements. In 1693 he was appointed first magistrate (similar to the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice). He served as mayor of Copenhagen and as Denmark’s chief tax assessor and revised the system for a more equitable taxation. Later he was made senator, then head of Denmark’s state council. And it was Roemer who urged for many years that Denmark adopt the modern calendar (it was not done until after his death). And Roemer also invented the 2-point calibrated temperature scale that was used by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, another Lutheran physicist, to make his temperature scale.

    Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, a Lutheran mathematician who developed differential calculus in the late 1600s.

    Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, a devout Lutheran mathematician and scientist, who first proved the fundamental theorem of algebra, and introduced the method of least squares, the Gaussian gravitational constant, and invented the heliotrope, and made numerous other mathematical and scientific contributions.

    Bernhard Riemann, a Lutheran (and PK!) mathematician and Gauss’s student, on whose mathematical works Einstein’s theory of relativity rests, and who postulated in 1859 his famous hypothesis, the greatest unsolved prime number problem in mathematics.

  • Carl Vehse

    Ole Christensen Roemer, a Danish Lutheran astronomer, who discovered that the speed of light was finite. That discovery was important to our 20th century friend, Albert Einstein, and, in effect, turned the telescope into a time machine that could look into the past. Roemer’s contributions to science and his native Denmark go well beyond his accomplishments in astronomy and his position as professor of mathematics at the University of Copenhagen, and ultimately Astronomer Royal to King Christian V of Denmark. Roemer was an important inventor. He also served his country as the master of the mint, inspector of naval architecture, purveyor of harbors, and advisor on pyrotechnics and ballistics. He also reorganized and standardized the Danish systems of weights and measures. He headed a commission to inspect Denmark’s highways and helped make various trade agreements. In 1693 he was appointed first magistrate (similar to the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice). He served as mayor of Copenhagen and as Denmark’s chief tax assessor and revised the system for a more equitable taxation. Later he was made senator, then head of Denmark’s state council. And it was Roemer who urged for many years that Denmark adopt the modern calendar (it was not done until after his death). And Roemer also invented the 2-point calibrated temperature scale that was used by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, another Lutheran physicist, to make his temperature scale.

    Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, a Lutheran mathematician who developed differential calculus in the late 1600s.

    Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, a devout Lutheran mathematician and scientist, who first proved the fundamental theorem of algebra, and introduced the method of least squares, the Gaussian gravitational constant, and invented the heliotrope, and made numerous other mathematical and scientific contributions.

    Bernhard Riemann, a Lutheran (and PK!) mathematician and Gauss’s student, on whose mathematical works Einstein’s theory of relativity rests, and who postulated in 1859 his famous hypothesis, the greatest unsolved prime number problem in mathematics.

  • Carl Vehse

    Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, a Lutheran astronomer who systematized the Bessel mathematical functions and, in 1838 was the first astronomer to measure the distance to a star using the parallax method previously attempted by Brahe (without a telescope) and Galileo (in the early 1600s).

    Georg Cantor, a devout Lutheran, and the creator of set theory. Cantor also made many contributions to number theory.

    Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, whose Jewish father converted after marrying into a Lutheran family, established the photoelectric effect (later explained by Einstein), developed the dipole antenna, and made other contributions related to radio frequency transmission. The unit of frequency is named after him.

    Kurt Godel (of Lutheran background, but probably not in later life), famous for his Incompleteness Theorem, that shook up the math and philosophical world.

    Max Planck, Nobel Laureate and considered the Father of Quantum Theory, with a fundamental constant assocated with his name. Although his grandfather and great-grandfather were noted Lutheran theologians, Planck’s Lutheranism tended to be more ecumenical. He later had a number of personal tragedies, including his son, Erwin, being hung for his involvement in a 1945 plot to kill Hitler.

    Lise Meitner, born Jewish, but became a Lutheran as a young adult and remain Lutheran the rest of her life. Meitner, along with her co-worker, Otto Hahn, discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium. She also worked with Max Planck and became the first female full professor at the University of Berlin. In 1939, Meitner discovered that a neutron split uranium into two smaller atoms, releasing large amounts of energy, and named the process “nuclear fission”. Because of her Jewish background Meitner had to leave Germany prior to WWII and her German co-worker, Otto Hahn, ended up receiving the Nobel Prize for the discovery many thought she deserved. Element 109, meitnerium, is named in her honor. Meitner’s discovery of nuclear fission prompted the U.S. government to create the WWII Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic (fission) bombs dropped on Hiroshima, 64 years ago yesterday, and on Nagasaki, three days later, leading to the end of WWII.

  • Carl Vehse

    Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, a Lutheran astronomer who systematized the Bessel mathematical functions and, in 1838 was the first astronomer to measure the distance to a star using the parallax method previously attempted by Brahe (without a telescope) and Galileo (in the early 1600s).

    Georg Cantor, a devout Lutheran, and the creator of set theory. Cantor also made many contributions to number theory.

    Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, whose Jewish father converted after marrying into a Lutheran family, established the photoelectric effect (later explained by Einstein), developed the dipole antenna, and made other contributions related to radio frequency transmission. The unit of frequency is named after him.

    Kurt Godel (of Lutheran background, but probably not in later life), famous for his Incompleteness Theorem, that shook up the math and philosophical world.

    Max Planck, Nobel Laureate and considered the Father of Quantum Theory, with a fundamental constant assocated with his name. Although his grandfather and great-grandfather were noted Lutheran theologians, Planck’s Lutheranism tended to be more ecumenical. He later had a number of personal tragedies, including his son, Erwin, being hung for his involvement in a 1945 plot to kill Hitler.

    Lise Meitner, born Jewish, but became a Lutheran as a young adult and remain Lutheran the rest of her life. Meitner, along with her co-worker, Otto Hahn, discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium. She also worked with Max Planck and became the first female full professor at the University of Berlin. In 1939, Meitner discovered that a neutron split uranium into two smaller atoms, releasing large amounts of energy, and named the process “nuclear fission”. Because of her Jewish background Meitner had to leave Germany prior to WWII and her German co-worker, Otto Hahn, ended up receiving the Nobel Prize for the discovery many thought she deserved. Element 109, meitnerium, is named in her honor. Meitner’s discovery of nuclear fission prompted the U.S. government to create the WWII Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic (fission) bombs dropped on Hiroshima, 64 years ago yesterday, and on Nagasaki, three days later, leading to the end of WWII.

  • J.A. Chroboczek

    I am writing an essay on a Polish XVII century mathematician, Brozek, who travelled in 1618 to Warmia in search of Copenicus papers. I incuded there a section on Rheticus. I would appreciate receiving a source of the portrait presented here. I found in Enc. Brit. a photograph of a Rheticus monument, somewhere in Germany. Would the author of this blog know something about its wherebouts? Please use my Email address to answer.

  • J.A. Chroboczek

    I am writing an essay on a Polish XVII century mathematician, Brozek, who travelled in 1618 to Warmia in search of Copenicus papers. I incuded there a section on Rheticus. I would appreciate receiving a source of the portrait presented here. I found in Enc. Brit. a photograph of a Rheticus monument, somewhere in Germany. Would the author of this blog know something about its wherebouts? Please use my Email address to answer.