November 15, 2012

The 500 Year Old Meteor Doodle

In 1543 Copernicus published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) in which he reasoned that the Earth orbits the Sun. 400 copies were printed. It didn’t sell out.

Still, the heliocentric model for the solar system would cause quite an upset when it was championed by Galileo almost 100 years later. Galileo was imprisoned in 1633 under house arrest for “following the position of Copernicus, which is contrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture”

In the margin of the original manuscript Copernicus doodled a little meteor:


Of what significance the doodle we shall never know.

I first learned about Copernicus’ doodle many years ago in a documentary by Marcus du Sautoy - the beauty of diagrams. But it wasn’t until I recently read Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore that I thought to look up the doodle. It turns out very little had been written about it that I could find using Google. So I went on a digital adventure and eventually unearthed a copy of the original manuscript online here.

Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore is a wonderful story that touches on the real and imagined, digital and physical, archived and lost, serious and playful.

Somehow reading the book tickled my neurons in a way that made me go on a hunt to track down a doodle in a book that’s 500 years old. Doesn’t get much better than that….

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This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: