Copernicus's Heliocentric Model

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Prior to the Copernican revolution, the Ptolemaic model of the solar system was the dominant mode of understanding the solar system. It was a geocentric model, in which the sun, stars and planets orbited around a stationary Earth in epicycles. Ptolemy proposed a very complex model comprising over a hundred epicycles to explain the movement of celestial bodies (Ferris, 1997). Copernicus, in contrast, proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which planets orbited around the sun. Aside from this, he also proposed that the Earth rotated on its own axis, taking an entire day to complete a single revolution (Westman, 1998).

When we compare and contrast the Copernican and Ptolemaic models of the solar system, we find that the Copernican model was much simpler and had greater explanatory value. It was a much better system for the following reasons.

Firstly, the heliocentric model proposed by Copernicus was simpler than the geocentric one. There was still a need for epicycles to explain planetary motion as Copernicus postulated that planets moved in circular orbits
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Firstly, Greek philosophy places the Earth as the center of the universe. According to Aristotle, everything on Earth is comes from the four element: water, fire, air and earth in a constant cycle of decay and renewal while everything in the heavens was made of aether which was incorruptible and unchanging (MacLean, 2008). As a result of this, earthly elements were thought to fall towards the center of the Earth while aether and the perfect heavenly bodies must move in perfect circles. By proposing a heliocentric system, Copernicus defied the belief that the only perfect celestial bodies (and not the imperfect Earth) moved in perfect circles. At the same time, the sun which was considered a perfect celestial body would be put at the center of the solar system, a position reserved for the

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