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Why they wanted to burn the imperial mathematician and brilliant astrophysicist at the stake: The Secret of Johannes Kepler
Why they wanted to burn the imperial mathematician and brilliant astrophysicist at the stake: The Secret of Johannes Kepler

The German natural scientist, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, optician and Protestant theologian discovered the laws of planetary motion, named in his honor "Kepler's laws." Like his colleague Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler developed a heliocentric worldview, founded by Copernicus. His innovative ideas were far ahead of their time. Scientific theories met with fierce resistance not only from the Catholic Church, but also in the progressive Protestant environment. Lonely, devoid of understanding and support, Kepler worked tirelessly and believed in his discoveries …

Childhood of genius

Johannes Kepler was born on December 27, 1571 in Weil (now Weil der Stadt) in Württemberg. He was born prematurely, was a very weak and sickly child. At the age of seven months, Johann suffered from smallpox. The disease gave complications and Kepler's eyesight was weakened.

Johannes Kepler

The boy's parents, Heinrich and Katharina Kepler, lived in poverty. His father was a traveling merchant and left the family when Johann was only five years old. The mother of the future scientist was the daughter of an innkeeper and, having inherited the family business, began to run it successfully. In addition, she was well versed in herbs, moonlighting fortune-telling and herbal medicine.

The financial situation was very unstable, and the boy could only dream of a good education. Only his ingenious mind and perseverance proved once again that nothing is impossible. Johann attended a Latin school in Leonberg. There he studied well and received a scholarship to study Protestant theology. After completing his studies at the monastery in 1589, Kepler entered the University of Tübingen.

Young Johannes Kepler

Becoming a scientist

Young Johann fell in love with astronomical science thanks to his mother. It was she who showed her inquisitive son a comet in 1577. This sight made an indelible impression on the six-year-old boy. Three years later, mother and son observed another astronomical phenomenon - a lunar eclipse. Johann carried his passion for astronomy throughout his life. Subsequently, the scientist said that if it were not for gender bias and poverty, his mother could get an education and become a scientist. Kepler was a worthy son of his mother.

At the university, Johann studied at the Faculty of Arts. Then they studied mathematics and astronomy. Later, Kepler plunged into a deep study of theology. Johann first became acquainted with the works of Nicolaus Copernicus. Kepler became an ardent supporter of his theories. If in the beginning Kepler wanted to become a Protestant priest, now everything has changed.

Johannes Kepler's model of the solar system

Johann showed simply phenomenal mathematical ability. The young man was asked to teach at the University of Graz. He became the youngest professor there. Kepler was a teacher of mathematics, astronomy and theology for six years. During this time, he managed to write his first work "The Mystery of the Universe". It was published in 1596. In the book, Kepler talked about universal harmony and tried to unravel the secrets of the universe. The scientist compared the orbits of the five planets known at that time. Then he imagined them round.Later, after other works and discoveries, this scientific work partially lost its significance, since Kepler proved that the orbits of the planets have an elliptical shape. But Johann's faith in the absolute mathematical harmony of the Universe remained forever.

"Secrets of the Universe" by Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler's teaching was based on two postulates: scientific and theological. He always viewed science through the prism of Holy Scripture. In disputes with colleagues, he always proved the truth of the theory of heliocentrism, citing not only Copernicus quotes, but also verses from the Bible.

Today all Kepler's discoveries and laws are confirmed by scientific research of modern science. This is at a time when there is a high-precision technique. One can only endlessly admire the genius of Johannes Kepler, his imagination, perseverance, when, without having all this at hand, he was able to express everything with such precision.

Despite the fact that Kepler himself considered astrology a pseudoscience, he was considered a very talented astrologer. Johann said that people are very much mistaken, thinking that heavenly bodies somehow affect their earthly existence. He called astrology the stupid daughter of true science who feeds her mother. Kepler's astrological predictions for 1594 created a good reputation for him, for the predictions of an extremely cold winter and a Turkish invasion came true exactly.

The genius scientist was far ahead of his time

Personal life

Johannes Kepler entered into his first marriage with Barbara Müller in 1597. She was then 25 years old, she was a widow with a child. They lived together for almost 15 years and gave birth to five children. Two died in infancy. In 1611, Barbara fell seriously ill. These were very difficult years for Johann. At almost the same time, he loses his six-year-old son, who died of smallpox, and his wife. A year and a half later, Johann marries a woman named Susanna again. In this marriage, he was happier. The wife turned out to be a good mother for his children, very kind and caring.

Johannes Kepler with his first wife

Recognition and exile

Johann sent his first scientific work "Secrets of the Universe" to Galileo and the astronomer Tycho Brahe. Galileo highly praised Kepler's heliocentric approach, but criticized his mystical numerology. Tycho did not support this either, considering these fabrications far-fetched. He fully appreciated the originality of the thinking of the genius scientist. They began to correspond. Kepler could not adequately argue with Brahe, because he did not have the exact data and equipment that were at the disposal of the eminent astronomer.

Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe

At this time, tensions begin to build up in the city where the scientist lived with his family. During the Counter-Reformation, they tried to force Kepler to convert to Catholicism. The scientist refused and was forced to flee. Here, by the way, I had to invite Tycho. In 1600 Johann left for Prague. There he received the post of court astronomer at the court of Emperor Rudolf II.

Religious persecution forced the scientist to move

The scientist was finally able to devote himself entirely to science. He observes the planets and writes treatises. A year later, Tycho Brahe died suddenly. Kepler takes his place as the imperial mathematician. Johann was supposed to complete Brahe's research in the field of observations of Mars and the compilation of the Rudolfin tables of planetary motion. Then he earned very modestly. Endless wars drained the treasury and paid the scientist real pennies. In order to support his family, Kepler moonlighted by drawing up horoscopes. Here, the greedy heirs of Tycho demanded all his labors for themselves. Johann had to pay off. The next decade was spent in fruitful work for the benefit of science. The scientist not only completed what Brahe had begun, but also supplemented the theory of Nicolaus Copernicus with his assumption of an elliptical orbit in which the planets move around the Sun.

Johannes Kepler was considered a heretic because he was a follower of the ideas of Copernicus

In 1609, he published Kepler's first and second laws of planetary motion as a result of his elliptical theory. Having studied the data on the orbit of Mars, the scientist on May 15, 1618 discovered the third of the laws named after him. He described it in the work "Harmonices Mundi libri V" (World harmony).In 1621, he enriched Copernicus' doctrine with the thesis that the force emanating from the sun causes the planet to move. His mathematical and astronomical considerations had a huge impact on the further development of physics for centuries to come. A significant turn in the scientific epistemology of our time meant a consistent processing of the results of his research.

Kepler valued the knowledge and experience gained from scientific observation above the conflicting statements of church and secular authorities. Therefore, he increasingly came into conflict with them. Because of this, he was forced to move to Linz in 1611, where he began to work as a mathematician. In 1615, he developed the Kepler barrel rule. It became his most important contribution to mathematics. With its help, it was possible to calculate areas and volumes. In the future, it stimulated the discovery of Simpson's formula and was an important step towards the creation of integral calculus. Between 1618 and 1621, Kepler wrote the Epitome Astronomiae Copernicae (Outline of Copernican Astronomy), in which he summarized all his discoveries. This book became the first textbook on the heliocentric worldview.

Kepler's book on astronomy was the first textbook on the heliocentric worldview

In 1626, the Counter-Reformation and its fanatics forced the scientist to leave Linz. After several trips, he published in 1627 the Rudolfin Tables, which served as the basis for astronomical calculations for more than three centuries. A year later, Kepler settled in Sagan (Silesia), where he worked as a mathematician at the court of Prince Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583-1634). With his introduction to logarithmic computing, he contributed to the spread of this new type of computation in Germany. Kepler also made optics a subject of scientific research and helped prove the discoveries made by his contemporary Galileo Galilei with a telescope.

During observations of Mars, Johannes Kepler derived a new formula. Its essence was that the speed of the planet's movement is inversely proportional to its distance from the Sun. In 1611, the scientist wrote a fantastic book about the flight to the moon "Dream, or Posthumous essay on lunar astronomy." Experts consider this to be the first literary work in the science fiction genre. In this novel, Johann described all events from the point of view of astronomy. It was this work that became one of the causes of the tragedy in the life of the scientist and the indirect cause of his death.

This book became the shadow of a curse over the life of a scientist

Kepler's Mystery

In the period from 1615 to 1621, Kepler worked on the incredibly important scientific essay "Copernican Astronomy", which was published in three volumes. There were detailed descriptions of all three laws of planetary motion, and all Kepler's discoveries in the field of astronomy. These books were immediately banned.

In those days, the link between science fiction and witchcraft was a proven fact for the vast majority of people. The scientist has denied the current long-standing belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth. He was the first to delve deeper into astrophysics and develop a scientific way to predict eclipses. Kepler's ideas were too radical for the time. Not surprisingly, the scientist was suspected of witchcraft.

The accusation of witchcraft could be easily obtained

During the 14th and 15th centuries, Europe was gripped by a witch-hunt hysteria. At the slightest suspicion, the women were executed for "conspiracy with the devil." It was common for high royals and clergy to stage exorcisms on women believed to be possessed. Those present were shown insects that crawled out of their mouths when they were "expelled from demons." Hundreds of thousands of women have been charged with witchcraft and found guilty. They were brutally tortured and then executed.

Demonstration of casting out demons

On this wave, Katharina Kepler, the herbalist and mother of Johann, did not escape trouble. She was one of the oldest residents of the German city of Leonberg and was known for her cocky demeanor. Everyone knew about her talents to heal and relieve suffering with the help of herbal mixtures of her own preparation. One of Katharina's friends and clients reported her to the Inquisition, accusing her of witchcraft.

In fact, washo was very simple. This woman, named Ursula Reinhold, was the sister of the village barber. She cheated on her husband and became pregnant as a result. She came to her friend Katharina with a demand to help her have an abortion. She refused. Ursula was furious. She did the abortion herself, unsuccessfully. As a result, she fell ill and, wanting to hide the consequences, accused her ex-girlfriend of casting a spell on her.

As is often the case in small towns, there were immediately a bunch of people who wanted to denigrate a woman. One girl stated that her hand became numb after being hit by Katarina. The school teacher said that he became a victim of the witch, claiming that she jinxed him and he injured his leg. There were others who "saw" Katarina walking through closed doors. Many have claimed that she was the cause of the death of babies and the pestilence of livestock.

The weight of the work of her son Johann was added to the suspicions. In particular, his book about the trip to the moon. It tells the story of a young astronomer going to this planet. In this he is assisted by his mother, a healer and herbalist who can summon spirits. The book was considered autobiographical and served as a good support for the accusations. Johann's mother was arrested.

The woman was shown what awaited her

The poor woman was brutally tortured to confess to all the absurd charges. The son came to the rescue. Johannes Kepler devoted himself entirely to protecting his beloved mother. He proved that Ursula actually had the abortion. The girl's hand went numb due to the fact that she was carrying too many heavy bricks. The teacher was limping because he stumbled and injured a joint.

The trial went on for a whole year. Finally, thanks to the heroic efforts of her son, Katarina was acquitted of all charges. She was released. The imprisonment and torture severely damaged her health. Less than a year later, the woman died. Kepler spent the rest of his life commenting on his book The Dream. He fanatically tried to ensure that everything that could lead to superstitious interpretations was carefully explained. Johann wrote many additions where he outlined the strict scientific reasons for using all of his symbols and metaphors. Despite this, even now you can find those who consider Kepler a magician, thinking that he took his sinister secret of a warlock with him to the grave.

Monument to Katharina Kepler


The works of the scientist are valuable to this day. For example, in the field of symmetry, crystallography and coding theory. Kepler was the first to use the term "arithmetic mean". Also, the creation of the first table of logarithms is his merit. Kepler made an enormous contribution to the development of geometry. Thanks to him, the concept of the focus of a conical section and an infinitely distant point appeared. The term "inertia" was introduced by Johannes Kepler and, like his colleague Galileo, discovered the first law of mechanics. The next achievement of the great scientist almost became the law of gravitation. He was able to explain it, but he could not substantiate it from a mathematical point of view. Johannes Kepler was the first to suggest that the ebb and flow is the impact of the moon on the upper layers of the oceans. Newton only 100 years later made a similar assumption.

Kepler's scientific works are still relevant today

Kepler was the one who introduced the concept of light refraction, "optical axis", "meniscus", presented the general theory of lenses and systems. He fully described the whole principle of the mechanism of vision, determined the role of the lens, determined the causes of myopia and hyperopia. Thanks to his research, the telescope was invented.

Death of a scientist

In 1630, Kepler decided to go to Regensburg, to the emperor, for his salary. On the way, Johann caught a bad cold and died. Everything that the greatest scientist of genius left to his children: shabby clothes, a meager amount of money and manuscripts. Later they were all published in 22 volumes. The scientist was not very lucky even after his death. During the Thirty Years War, the cemetery where he was buried was completely destroyed. His grave has not survived.Only the epitaph remained, which he himself wrote: “I measured the sky, and now I measure the shadows. My mind is in heaven, and my body rests in the earth."

Monument to Johannes Kepler

History has known many geniuses who were not understood, appreciated, and even persecuted by their contemporaries. Read our article the sad fall of genius: what went wrong for Nikola Tesla.

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