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Johannes Kepler (1571--1630)---Historical sketch

Johannes Kepler was a superb astronomer, discovering and describing his three Laws of Planetary Motion, but he also made contributions in many other scientific areas, and in mathematics as well. Fortunately for historians of science, a large quantity of his correspondence survives to this day.

Kepler was born into a poor home—his father a mercenary soldier—very late in the year of 1571 in a village of Württemberg, in the southwest German part of the Holy Roman Empire. When Johannes was five, his father died, and he was reared by his mother in his grandparents' inn. His great capacity for learning was evident early on, and he was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Tübingen with the intention of studying for the Lutheran ministry. (Though he was deeply religious throughout his life, he was for technical religious reasons not accepted by either the Lutherans or the Catholics.) At the University, he became an adherent of Copernicus' ideas, and when he became a mathematics teacher in Graz, Austria, he wrote a tract on the Copernican system.

He was forced to leave Graz because he was Lutheran, and he then moved to Prague to work with Tycho Brahe, the famed Danish astronomer. In 1601, upon Brahe's death, Kepler took over his position as Imperial Mathematician. Using Brahe's astronomical data, Kepler was able to conclude that the orbit of Mars is an ellipse, with the Sun at one of the poles, a formal statement of which is the first of what have become to be called his Laws of Planetary Motion. The Lutherans were forced to leave Prague in 1612, and Kepler moved to Linz, Austria. Despite many family and personal problems, he worked diligently on mathematics, optics, and astronomy, making predictions based on his Laws that proved to be accurate. Many people believe that it was Kepler's work that urged Isaac Newton on to his work on gravity, not the drop of an apple from a tree.

After an illness while in the Bavarian city of Regensberg, Johannes Kepler died in November of 1630.


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Kepler's laws, Newton's law of gravitation


Copyright © 2006 Darel Hardy, Fred Richman, Carol Walker, Robert Wisner. All rights reserved. Except upon the express prior permission in writing, from the authors, no part of this work may be reproduced, transcribed, stored electronically, or transmitted in any form by any method.

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