Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Heroes: Johannes Kepler

Considering how religion has dominated the history of western civilization, it should come as no surprise that scientific advancement in such an environment required a truly heroic effort. I am hard pressed to find a better example of this than the 17th century mathematician Johannes Kepler. Although this man is virtually unheard of outside of science lover’s like me and the scientific community itself, his accomplishments stand with even the most famous scientists of all. I first heard of Kepler while watching Carl Sagan’s PBS series, Cosmos. The name might also be familiar to those who follow NASA, because of the recently launched Kepler telescope and it’s mission to search for other habitable planets.

Despite being raised a Lutheran, attending seminary school, university as a theology student, and his full intention to become a minister himself, Kepler’s brilliant mind and absolute dedication to his search for the truth led him to instead to become what many believe to be the true father of modern astrophysics. At a time when The Church still maintained that the Earth was the center of the universe and Galileo was spending the rest of his life under house arrest for defying that doctrine, Kepler almost single-handedly developed the modern scientific method of discovery and went on to provide us with the laws of planetary motion that we use today to predict the positions of the planets and send to our spacecraft so precisely through the solar system.

Kepler’s work with planetary motion led directly to Newton’s later work showing that the motions of objects on the Earth and the heavens are governed by the same set of natural laws including Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Amongst his other many achievements, Kepler’s work in Optics also inspired Newton and others, leading to our understanding of light, vision, and photography. Amongst his firsts are the development lenses for vision correction, and the explanations for depth perception, how a telescope actually works, and how the moon causes the tides.

Johannes Kepler was a truly amazing individual who absolutely deserves recognition as a true life hero.

I want ice water.

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