May 16, 2015: While participating in the Albion College Holocaust Studies Service Learning Program, a side trip to Toruń, Poland brought me to the house of Copernicus, the man who put the Sun at the center of the Solar System (instead of the Earth), revolutionizing the way scientists, and people in general, thought about the positions and motions of the objects in our Solar System. Now, the planets were in their correct order (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) and most celestial events (e.g., eclipses, conjunctions) could be accurately predicted and observed.
The building had several rooms converted into museum spaces, with displays describing the contributions of Johannes Hevelius, a Polish astronomer who mapped the constellations in both hemispheres, a recreation of the 1870 exhibition in Rappersville, Switzerland (the oldest collection of Copernicus memorabilia on display), and copies of Copernicus’ documents and instruments.
It was all very interesting and historical, but I wanted more – more about his early life, his childhood, his siblings, his “aha moment” that forced him to consider placing the Sun at the Solar System’s center. I got none of that, unfortunately. Still, it was inspiring to walk in his footsteps, to climb his stairs, to see where he and his family lived their lives.
Toruń itself dates from the 13th Century and walking in the old town is like walking back in time (except for the tourists and the souvenir kiosks). Missing are the fair maidens, knights, and roaming animals, but you can visit the ruins of the Teutonic Knights’ Castle. The buildings are pastel colored and decorated with ornate decorations of flowers, cherubs, and other items. It really is a charming old-European town.
All-in-all, it was mostly worth the trip, and I thank the Faculty Development Committee at Albion College for partial funding.