Origins of the Term Kepler's Dream Part 1

About the term Kepler's Dream, origins and history of the treatise written by Johannes Kepler


Kepler's Dream. "A treatise in the form of a fable written by the astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and published posthumously, describing how the movements of the heavenly bodies would look to an inhabitant of the moon and including a 'moon geography.'

"When Johannes Kepler was admitted to the University of Tubingen in 1589 as a student of theology, one of his teachers was Magister Michael Maestlin, professor of mathematics and astronomy. Although the rest of the faculty, citing holy writ, held with Ptolemy that the universe revolves around the earth, Maestlin was a confirmed believer in the heliocentric theory announced less than a half century earlier by Copernicus. In his public lectures, Maestlin taught Ptolemy, but to a select and intimate circle, of which young Kepler was one, he expounded on the structure of the universe as Copernicus had laid it out.

"Later, Kepler began to jot down some thoughts as to how the motions of the stars and planets including the earth would look to someone living on the moon. For a time these thoughts remained notes only, but his interest was revived when he encountered Plutarch's On the Face of the Moon's Disk. The idea then began to take shape of writing a detailed description of the moon in fanciful form. In the summer of 1609, when he was living in Prague under appointment as imperial mathematician, he discussed his plan with a learned friend, Wackher von Wackenfels, and there-upon sat down and composed his Somnium seu Astronomia Lunari--A Dream or Astronomy of the Moon.

"The end product was a remarkable blend of scientific fact and imaginative fantasy. In it Kepler dreams of himself as a youth living in Thule with his mother, a gentle soul conversant with wise and friendly spirits who often convey her to distant lands or bring her news of other far places. One such place is Levania. In the course of describing the inhabitants, plants, and animals of this imaginary land, Kepler sets down the actual results of his own many years of astronomical observations. In contrast to the fanciful 'geography' drawn from Plutarch, Kepler presents with great accuracy the phenomena exhibited by the sun, the earth, and the other planets as they would appear from the moon. These include the alternation of day and night, heat and cold and the seasons, and the paths of the planets. It was Kepler who 1st determined that the planetary orbits were elliptical rather than circular. All this, as he put it, was 'to make an argument for the motion of the earth taking the moon as an example.' To the body of the work he later added numerous notes, astronomical, physical and geographic, which greatly enhanced its scientific value; and he finished it off with his own Latin translation from the Greek of Plutarch's 'moon geography.'

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