Copernicus was a man with a serious problem. He knew from his observations and mathematical calculations that his church's teachings on the nature of the universe were wrong. The earth was not a stationary center around which all heavenly bodies rotated. To speak out, however, would invite charges of heresy for which he could be ostracized, imprisoned, or even executed. It is no wonder he hesitated for decades to let anyone other than his closest friends know what he had discovered. The friends, however, did not keep secrets well. The drama that ensued is the subject of Dava Sobel's latest science history A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos.
High drama is exactly how Sobel see the story. She has written a short play about Copernicus and the risks that he choose to take when young Georg Joachim Rheticus from Wittenberg arrived at his doorstep in Varmia in 1539. This play is the core of her book, around which she recounts the history of planetary astronomy. The central event is the publishing of On the Revolutions of the Heaven Spheres, a book which the Roman Catholic Church embraced for its calendar math and scorned for its unbiblical view of the solar system. The rising of the Protestant Reformation adds extra layers of tension to the story. Ironically, Martin Luther agreed with a series of popes in insisting that the earth was the body around which all others passed.
Readers looking for historical insight into current debates in which politics complicates scientific debate need look no further.
Sobel, Dava. A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. Walker & Company, 2011. 273p. ISBN 9780802717931.