Copernicus and the Unseen Universe

I heard the aurora borealis the other night. On clear evenings we sometimes see its lambent reds and yellows, a soft upturned basket of light hanging in our northern sky. We had never heard it before, but there we were one night, thanks to a radio astronomer friend, listening to the aurora as it chirped and sang like a chorus of birds. The concert came, he explained, from ninety miles above the earth, where particles streaming from the sun at millions of miles an hour were bombarding atoms in our upper atmosphere, setting them aglow in the polar night as the aurora.

Listening in on the aurora reminded me how much we owe to Nicolaus Copernicus (born February 19, 1473) for opening enormous vistas of the heliocentric universe. He saw a universe beyond the one his contemporaries saw. When he discovered that the earth goes around the sun, Copernicus was not looking through a telescope. This eye-opener of astronomy was invented later. Copernicus avoided stargazing anyway. His experiments, like Albert Einstein's gedankenexperiments (carried out by proposing a hypothesis in thought only) were carried out mostly in the laboratory of consciousness. The essence of Copernicus' contribution was not in discovering facts but in discovering new ways of thinking about them. Throughout this quincentennial year the world celebrates his new way of thinking about the universe.

The Will and the Way
August 11, 1973

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