Happy Birthday Universe!

universe creationFrom History

On this day in 4977 B.C., the universe is created, according to German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, considered a founder of modern science. Kepler is best known for his theories explaining the motion of planets.

Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, in Weil der Stadt, Germany. As a university student, he studied the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories of planetary ordering. Copernicus (1473-1543) believed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, a theory that contradicted the prevailing view of the era that the sun revolved around the earth.

Johannes_KeplerIn 1600, Kepler went to Prague to work for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the imperial mathematician to Rudolf II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Kepler’s main project was to investigate the orbit of Mars. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler took over his job and inherited Brahe’s extensive collection of astronomy data, which had been painstakingly observed by the naked eye. Over the next decade, Kepler learned about the work of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who had invented a telescope with which he discovered lunar mountains and craters, the largest four satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, among other things. Kepler corresponded with Galileo and eventually obtained a telescope of his own and improved upon the design. In 1609, Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion, which held that planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles (as had been widely believed up to that time), and that planets speed up as they approach the sun and slow down as they move away. In 1619, he produced his third law, which used mathematic principles to relate the time a planet takes to orbit the sun to the average distance of the planet from the sun.

Kepler’s research was slow to gain widespread traction during his lifetime, but it later served as a key influence on the English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his law of gravitational force. Additionally, Kepler did important work in the fields of optics, including demonstrating how the human eye works, and math. He died on November 15, 1630, in Regensberg, Germany. As for Kepler’s calculation about the universe’s birthday, scientists in the 20th century developed the Big Bang theory, which showed that his calculations were off by about 13.7 billion years.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    But, but, but… Where does he explain how he arrived at this?

    And what does it mean, exactly? For example, in comparison to the detailed mediaeval attention to the Days of Creation (and their possible and likely dates):


  2. TWF says:

    And of course the Big Bang model was first formulated by the Catholic priest / astronomer Monsignor Lemaitre.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    I don’t know if this was deliberate on his part, but Kepler also married his first wife (who later died), on April 27.

    His work on the age of the universe was based on calculating when, near the approximate traditionally believed time of 4000 BC (based on Biblical genealogies), the earth was simultaneously at its furthest annual distance from the sun, and the earth, sun, and the head of the constellation Aries were all in a line. I do not know why he picked Aries. Several others in that historical era used similar logic to calculate conflicting dates.

    The work both of Brahe in making his detailed observations of the planets, and in Kepler in attempting to calculate positions from them, was extremely tedious.

    In college, I found having to spend several hours on a math problem incredibly demotivating. Kepler spent 11 years on this work! His passion for understanding the universe was truly a rare gift. Unfortunately, as a Lutheran, the Catholics in Prague initially tried to kick him out, but fortunately he impressed the emperor and was allowed to stay and continue working with Brahe’s data.

    He also had a somewhat interesting take on heliocentrism as sort of type for the Trinity, where the sun represented the Father, the earth the Son, and the intermediate space the Holy Spirit. This was more important than you might think, because so many people of the day mistakenly saw geocentrism as both an obvious and dogmatic, Biblically attested fact, and this view provided a basis for explaining passages in the Bible that interpreted literally seemed to otherwise indicate the universe was geocentric. This presumably, combined with the fact that he wasn’t a pompous jerk like Galileo, allowed him to help cement the credibility of heliocentrism without getting himself in the sort of trouble that Galileo did.

  4. ALSO the feast of Peter “Hammer of Protestantism” Canisius. … (I half expected, at the title, to be usshered through a list of begettings …)

  5. MarylandBill says:

    A couple of minor nit-picks.

    1. Galileo did not invent the telescope. We are not sure who it was, but it was most likely someone in the Netherlands.

    2. Actually, when Kepler published his laws of planetary motion, Copernicus’s hypothesis was not widely accepted. There were a number of problems with a heliocentric model of the solar system that were not resolved until later. It was the amazing accuracy (for the time) of the Rudolphine Tables that Kepler developed using his laws of planetary motion that ultimately sealed the deal for both his laws of Planetary motion and for the heliocentric model.

    Galileo actually knew of Kepler’s work but rejected it. Galileo, like many natural philosophers of the time (It really is too early to call them scientists in the modern sense of the word) were strongly influenced by Plato and thus were committed to the idea that orbits needed to be explained in terms of circles.

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It is likely that Kepler associated Aries with the Lamb of God and with the ram that stood in for Isaac.

  7. iamlucky13 says:

    “I half expected, at the title, to be usshered through a list of begettings”

    Well-played. I wouldn’t have caught it had I not been inspired by Father’s post to dig into the background on Kepler’s calculation of the age of the universe.

  8. jltuttle says:

    “scientists in the 20th century developed the Big Bang theory, which showed that his calculations were off by about 13.7 billion years.”

    Technically speaking, theories don’t “show,” i.e., demonstrate, anything. They attempt to predict.

  9. un-ionized says:

    Theories don’t attempt to predict, they attempt to explain observations.

  10. un-ionized says:

    His telescope had all lenses of negative focal length, as I recall (and I often recall incorrectly).

  11. mike cliffson says:

    Koestler in his thorough and I believe scholarly work the sleepwalkers says or infers that the Jesuits protected Kepler the scientist, to use our word, from the consequences of being Kepler the Lutheran – I haven’t got a physical volume handy to check, I recall his references being given, so I don’t now know if his source is direct or indirect. Anybody?

  12. I recall reading somewhere that is what the Jesuits who bought Kepler that telescope!

  13. acardnal says:

    Kepler. Kasper. “What difference does it make?!”

  14. robtbrown says:

    jltuttle says,

    “scientists in the 20th century developed the Big Bang theory, which showed that his calculations were off by about 13.7 billion years.”

    Technically speaking, theories don’t “show,” i.e., demonstrate, anything. They attempt to predict.

    According to St Thomas, following Aristotle, a demonstration is a syllogism whose conclusion follows necessarily–rather than just possibly. They can demonstrate that a cause necessarily exists (effect to cause) or that an effect necessarily follows (predicting an effect). Both are considered theoretical because neither the cause in the first case nor the effect in the second are yet present.

    Thus St Thomas says that the Five Ways that show the existence of God are said to be demonstrations

    In contemporary science “demonstration” is usually meant to be empirically proven.

  15. wmeyer says:

    Nothing yet from the Chicken? This really is his pidgin. (Sorry)

    Precision in things we cannot know is always so interesting….

  16. Sloet Steenkamp says:

    According to an ancient Eastern Catholic tradition the world was created on a full moon in September. Why? Because: (1) when God created the Moon, it could only be a full moon as God could not create anything imperfect; (2) God said: “Let the earth sprout vegetation: … and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”. And when do fruit trees bear fruit? – In September. Therefore the world was created on a full moon in September. This is the reason why, in the East, the Church year starts on September 1.

  17. Legisperitus says:

    In discussions like this I find it appropriate to quote that great raconteur, the Baron von Munchausen:

    “Vass you dere, Charley?”

  18. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thank you! Very interesting! (Does that heliocentrism imagery also contribute to Newton’s thinking of gravity?)

    Suburbanbanshee and Sloet Steenkamp,

    Thank you, too – interesting! The (western) spring/Aries connection seems, at least sometimes, to have to do with the vernal equinox, as Byrhtferth is quoted in translation in Dr. Parker’s post I linked above, “The first day of the world can be calculated, as I said above, by the day of the spring equinox, because the day of the equinox is the fourth day of this world. There were three days before that day without sun or moon or any stars.”

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