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Authors: James A. Connor

Kepler's Witch

BOOK: Kepler's Witch
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Kepler's Witch

An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

James A. Connor

with Translation Assistance by Petra Sabin Jung

Truthfully I may confess
that as often as I contemplate
the proper order, as one results from another
and becomes diminished,
it is as if
I have read a heavenly passage
not written in meaningful letters
but with the essential things in this world
which tells me: Put your reason herein
to comprehend these things.



is most often remembered for his venerable three laws of planetary motion, for which he has earned the title “the father of celestial mechanics.” But Kepler's accomplishments were wide-ranging. In addition to acclaim for his laws of planetary motion, he is also considered the founder of modern optics. He was the first to investigate the formation of pictures with a pinhole camera, the first to explain the process of vision by refraction within the eye, the first to formulate eyeglass designs for nearsightedness and farsightedness, and the first to explain the use of both eyes for depth perception, all of which he described in his book
Astronomiae Pars Optica
. In his book
(a term coined by Kepler and still used today), he was the first to describe real, virtual, upright, and inverted images and magnification (and he created all those ray diagrams commonly used in today's optics textbooks), the first to explain the principles of how a telescope works, and the first to discover and describe the properties of total internal reflection. Galileo may have used the telescope that Johann Lippershey had invented to discover the moons of Jupiter and to see the first hints of Saturn's rings, but it was Kepler who explained how the telescope works.

Kepler probably was the first real astrophysicist, as we know the term in the modern sense, using physics to explain and interpret astronomical phenomena. He was the first to explain that the tides are caused by the moon. In his book
Astronomia Nova
, he was the first to suggest that the sun rotates about its axis. He wrote what may have been the first sci-fi story, a view of earth from the moon. In his book
Stereometrica Doliorum Vinariorum,
he developed methods for calculating the volume of irregular solids that became the basis of integral calculus. And he was the first to derive the birth year of Christ that is now universally accepted.

Today when we think about scientists, we have images of university professors in ivy-covered halls, laboratories full of elaborate instruments, cadres of graduate students, laptop computers more powerful than all
those used to send men to the moon, and large government grants. Yet with all of these resources, how much of today's research will stand the test of time the way the works of Kepler have? Much has changed in four hundred years, but Kepler's laws are as exact now as they were then. How was he able to accomplish so much? Actually, given the times he lived in and the meager resources, how was he able to accomplish anything?

Context is the window to understanding. To understand Kepler and his accomplishments, one needs to understand the times in which he lived—the culture, people, places, politics, religion, and his family. Wars, witch hunts, pestilences, and death were common everyday occurrences. The potions that people used as cures were a far cry from today's medical miracle drugs.
Kepler's Witch
communicates a feeling for the hardships, difficulties, rejections, loneliness, and heartbreak that Kepler endured. He lived on the verge of poverty. His salary was almost always in arrears. His only resources were paper, pen, and one man's treasure trove of astronomical observations.

What drove Kepler? What sustained him? How could he endure? It certainly wasn't the money or even glory. He had few peers who even recognized his accomplishments. In
Kepler's Witch
readers get a feeling for the source of his strength, his vision, and his perseverance, how he was able to do so much with so little in spite of all the evils that surrounded him in life. Kepler believed in an almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth. He believed in Jesus Christ as personal Savior. He believed in the ideal of the holy catholic (universal) church. Kepler was a man of peace in search of harmony—in particular, the harmony of the heavens. Somehow he knew it was there, even if life on earth was far from harmonious.

David Koch

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Deputy Principal Investigator for The Kepler Mission

The Kepler Mission is a special NASA space mission for detecting terrestrial planets—that is, rocky, earth-sized planets—around other stars. It is scheduled for launch in 2006.

like this one is a river, drawing from many sources. I owe thanks to each one and will name them, in no particular order except as they come to mind. First, great thanks to Petra Sabin Jung, who helped with the difficult task of translating Kepler's German into modern English. Also, thanks to all my friends in Weil der Stadt: Dr. Manfred Fischer, the president of the
Kepler Gesellschaft;
Dr. Ernst Kühn, my sherpa guide up the steep slopes of Tübingen; Hubert and Elisabeth Bitzel, who were so kind and joined in my search for a Kepler sundae; Herr Bitzel, Hubert's brother, the curator of the Kepler Museum, and a great Kepler fan; Dr. Wolfgang Schütz, the curator of the Weil der Stadt city museum, the town historian, and a wonderful source of information. Also, thanks to all the shopkeepers in the
of Weil, who gave me samples. Thanks also to Anna Madsen and her father, Dr. Madsen, a Lutheran minister from Wisconsin. I met them both in Regensburg, and we had a wonderful little “Americans in exile” moment in the foyer of the Kepler Museum. Thanks to the people at the Sweet Home Hotel in Prague, who helped me get things mailed.

Thanks also to my agent, Giles Anderson, of the Anderson Literary Agency; to my editors, Steve Hanselman and Mickey Maudlin, at Harper San Francisco; and to my publicist, Roger Freet—three men who made the Big Decisions. And thanks to Cindy DiTiberio, also of Harper San Francisco, who made all the other decisions. Thanks also to David Koch, Michael Gurian, Charles de Fanti and Leni Fuhrman, Malachy McCourt, John Anthony Connor, Margarette Alma Connor, William Craven, Sr., the New York Mets (for teaching me humility), and, of course, my wife, Beth Craven Connor, for teaching me everything else.

BOOK: Kepler's Witch
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