Kepler was a professor of mathematics at the University of Graz, court mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II, and court astrologer to General Wallenstein. Early in his career, Kepler was an assistant of Brahe's. Kepler's career coincided with that of Galilei.
|Table of contents|
2 Scientific Work
3 Writings by Kepler
4 Full Text
Some events of Kepler's life
Like previous astronomers, Kepler initially believed that celestial objects moved in perfect circles. These models were consistent with observations and with the Platonic idea that the sphere was the perfect shape. After spending twenty years doing calculations with Tycho Brahe's data, Kepler concluded that this model of planetary motion was inconsistent with the data of Tycho Brahe. Using Tycho's data, Kepler was able to formulate Kepler's Laws of planetary motion in which planets move in ellipses and not circles.
Kepler discovered the three laws of planetary motion while trying to achieve the Pythagorean purpose of finding the harmony of the celestial spheres. In his cosmovision, it was not a coincidence that the number of perfect polyhedra was one less than the number of known planets. Having embraced the Copernican system, he set out to prove that the distances from the planets to the sun where given by spheres inside perfect polyedra inside spheres. He thereby identified the five platonic solids with the five intervals between the six known planets - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the five classical elements.
In 1596 Kepler published The Cosmic Mystery . Here is a selection explaining the relation between the planets and the platonic solids:
On October 17, 1604, Kepler observed that an exceptionally bright star had suddenly appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus. (It had appeared on October 9 previous.) The appearance of the star, which Kepler described in his book De Stella nova in pede Serpentarii, provided further evidence that the cosmos was not changeless; this was to influence Galileo's argument. It has since been determined that the star was a supernova, the second in a generation, called Kepler's Star. No further supernovae have since been observed with certainty in the Milky Way, though others outside our galaxy have been seen.
In his 1619 book, Harmonice Mundi, as well as the treatise Misterium Cosmographicum, he also made an association between the Platonic solids with the classical conception of the elements: The tetrahedron was the form of fire, the octahedron was that of air, the cube was earth, the icosahedron was water, and the dodecahedron was the cosmos as a whole or ether. There is some evidence this association was of ancient origin, as Plato relates one Timaeus of Locri who thought of the Universe as being enveloped by a gigantic dodecahedron while the other four solids represent the "elements" of fire, air, earth, and water.
To his disappointment, Kepler's attempts to fix the orbits of the planets within a set of polyhedrons never worked out, but there were other rewards. Since he was the first to recognize the non-convex regular solids (such as the stellated dodecahedrons), they are named Kepler solids in his honor.
His most significant achievements came from the realisation that the orbits of the planets were ellipses, not circles. This realisation was a direct consequence of his failed attempt to fit the planetary orbits within polyhedra. Kepler's willingness to abandon his most cherished theory in the face of precise observational evidence indicates that he had a very modern attitude to scientific research. Kepler also made great steps in trying to describe the motion of the planets by appealing to a force which resembled magnetism, and which emanated from the sun. Although he did not discover gravity, he seems to have attempted to describe the first empirical example of a universal law, to explain the behaviour of both earthly and heavenly bodies.
Kepler also made fundamental investigations into combinatorics, geometrical optimization, and natural phenomena such as snowflakes, always with an emphasis on form and design. He was also notable for defining antiprisms.