Although scientists as early as Aristarchus of Samos knew the relationship between the sun and earth around 270 BCE, it wasn’t until 1543 that Nicholas Copernicus published his masterwork De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published the same year that he died that the heliocentric model received wide distribution. Perhaps his death and inability to defend his thesis led to the very slow spread and adoption of his idea, so that by the year 1616 a group of cardinals and bishops under the direction of the Vatican met to denounce Galileo Galilei, who was using the results of his observations made with the new technology of the telescope to re-introduce the heliocentric model of the solar system.
A decade and half passed before Galileo was dangerous enough to draw a trial, which commenced in 1633. Galileo was furious with the philosophers, theologians and scientists who denounced his idea, complaining to his friend and fellow astronomer Johannes Kepler,
My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth.
He lost the trial and spent his last eight years under house arrest, working on his theories from his home in Pisa.
The word heliocentric comes from Ancient Greek, a combination of the words ἥλιος (helios) meaning sun and κέντρον (kentron) meaning center. It would take another three centuries for scientists to understand that not only is the Earth not the center of the Universe, neither is the Sun.
Happy Birthday Galileo Galilei, born February 15, 1564.
Painting of Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition by Cristiano Banti, 1857, in the public domain.
Image from Copernicus in the public domain.
The Yellow Rumped Warbler can be any one of four common birds in the genus Setophaga coronata-the Easter Myrtle Warbler, the western Audubon Warbler, Goldman’s Warbler and the Black Fronted Warbler. Part of the genus of Setophaga that contains over thirty species, the Yellow Rumped Warbler is typical of the genus: found in every part of North America from the Caribean Islands to Panama and as far north as the Artic Circle in Alaska and Canada. In 1973 the American Ornithologists Union collected these four birds into a single species. While not all have the crown plumage that gives the coronata its name, the genus name defines the group. Named in 1766 by Carl Linneaus, the name Setophaga is a combination of the Latin word saeta meaning brush or bush and phaga, from the Ancient Greek root phagein meaning to eat. Given the huge range of these birds all the way up to the Artic Circle, the normally insectivore Warblers will eat anything in winter or to extend their range-myrtle berries, juniper berries, the berries of poison oak and poison ivy-eating all around the bush or tree, giving the basis for the name.
Image of the Yellow Rumped Warbler courtesy Dan Haas, via his flickr feed loaded with great bird photos: nervousbirds, see him also at nervousbirds, guitar player, super dad, amateur birder, cyclist. Thanks, Dan!
On 24 November 1859 Charles Darwin published his monumental work On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, changing the face of biology. Although he only used the word once at the very end of the book, the word evolve (and evolution) is synonymous with Darwin. The word evolve had been used in a scientific sense specifically in biology for over a hundred years before Darwin wrote Origin of Species-which is one reason why he avoided it. By the mid 1850s, the word had connotations of perfectibility-something Darwin wanted to avoid. It was the last sentence of his book:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
The word evolution arrived in English in 1620 and comes from the Latin word evolutionem(nomnative form evolutio) meaning the unrolling of a book or revealing that which was rolled up. The word evolve arrived a bit later in the 1640s from the Latin word evolvere meaning to unroll and could also pertain to other ‘hidden’ things (see also for example the etymology of vulva), but mostly meant books, when a ‘volume’ was a rolled up manuscript made from vellum. The modern meaning that scientists such ad Darwin meant for it began around 1832 and reached its first full expression in Darwin’s work.
Happy Birthday to Charles Darwin, born on this day, 1809.