Airdate January 5, 2017
Curriculum Science
Social Studies

Copernicus is a Science / Social Studies video of BrainPOP launched on January 5, 2017.


The Copernicus episode is about Tim and Moby explaining the life of Copernicus and his discoveries about planetary movement.

At the end, Moby smiles and starts to press buttons on a control panel in his arm. Still gazing at the sky, Tim grabs Moby's arm to stop him. "Do not stop the planet, thank you very much." Tim says.


Trivia Edit

  • The music that plays in the opening is the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss II, performed by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, and conducted by Peter Falk.

Tanscript Edit

Quiz Edit


  • Tim: (grabs his arm to stop him) Do not stop the planet, thank you very much.

FYI Edit

Myths Edit


Since the dawn of human history, different cultures have connected their legends and myths to their observations of the night sky. Here are how just a few of them have interpreted the stars.

  • Early Chinese astronomers divided the sky into four regions. Each quarter was associated with a direction, a season, and an animal of legend. The east's Blue Dragon represented spring and the emperor. In the south, the Red Bird symbolized summer and the empress. The White Tiger of the west guarded the emperor's armies and the spirits of the dead, and embodied autumn. The northern sky was the province of winter and was overseen by the Black Tortoise, which was intertwined with a snake. The union of the snake and the tortoise was believed to have created the world.
  • The Aboriginal people of Australia, sometimes called "the world's first astronomers," paid attention to the spaces between the stars. The Emu in the Sky is made up of dark nebulae, or clouds of gas and dust, that stand out against the bright background of the Milky Way. One version of the Emu story tells of a blind man whose wife is killed for trying to steal the bird's prized eggs. The man miraculously regains his sight, and then spears the creature, casting it up into the Milky Way. There it remains.
  • Orion is one of the world’s most recognizable constellations. Its stars form the shield, club, and belt of its namesake, a hunter in Greek mythology. In one of Orion's adventures, his boasts anger the gods, so they send a humble scorpion to defeat him. Orion and Scorpio are then set on opposite sides of the heavens, in a perpetual chase.
  • The same constellation is known as Gilgamesh in Sumerian mythology, after the heroic huntsman of their classic epic. To Babylonians in the Late Bronze Age, the constellation represents a shepherd. The Bible, meanwhile, described a "fool," whereas Medieval Muslim astronomers spoke of a sword-wielding "giant."
  • Not all stargazers saw a man, however. In ancient China, the constellation was simply called Shen, or "three," after its most vivid stars. America's Lakota Indians observed the shape of a bison; the brightest lights formed the animal’s backbone.
  • The ancient peoples of Mesoamerica, like the Olmec and the Maya, closely tracked the movements of the stars and planets. Appearances and disappearances of celestial bodies were interpreted by priest-astronomers as communication from the gods. These events were coordinated with notable human events, like transfers of power and declarations of war. In the early Middle Ages, the Maya priests used the stars, plus their super-advanced mathematical system, to aid farmers: Following the course of the Pleiades, called Tzab-ek (rattlesnake's tail) after its spiral shape, was key. The star cluster emerged in the morning sky at the start of the planting season. The ancient mathematicians could predict its arrival, and that allowed farmers to plan ahead!

The Final Frontier Edit


The first telescope designs were created in 1608, by German-Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey. Earlier astronomers, such as Nicolaus Copernicus, were limited by what they could see with the naked eye. He published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543. So it was more than 60 years until astronomers could begin to confirm his theory with direct observation. In 1609, Galileo peered through his own improved telescope to see moons orbiting Jupiter. This discovery put the final nail in the coffin of the geocentric model of the universe. Telescope technology has come a long way in the four-plus centuries since Galileo. Since 1990, NASA has launched four extremely powerful telescopes into space, nicknamed the Great Observatories. They are:

  • The Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, this is the most famous of the observatories. It has spied distant supernovas, established the presence of black holes in galactic nuclei, and provided an amazing view of a comet colliding with Jupiter.
  • The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Launched in 1991 and de-orbited in 2000, this telescope was used to observe pulsars and supernovas.
  • The Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Launched in 1999, Chandra (pictured) has gathered all sorts of new information about black holes, dark matter, and supernovas.
  • The Spitzer Space Telescope. Launched in 2003, it gathers infrared radiation from very young galaxies and other deep space objects.

Space-based telescopes have several advantages over ground-based ones. Earth’s atmosphere blurs distant objects. It also radiates a small amount of light, which makes faint objects harder to detect.

Space telescopes can detect forms of non-visible light that don't penetrate our atmosphere. Gamma rays, x-rays, and far-infrared waves can be detected only in space.

A new generation of space telescopes will eventually replace the existing Great Observatories. The first will be the James Webb Space Telescope, set to take over for Hubble in 2018.

Way Back When Edit

COPERNICUS-FYI-Galielo spinning

The Catholic Church famously condemned Galileo Galilei's work, which supported Copernicus's heliocentric model of the universe. That's because the Church subscribed to Ptolemy's geocentric model, which put the earth, not the sun, in the center of everything. Galileo's notorious imprisonment has come to symbolize the conflict between science and religion. But in reality, the scientist’s sentence had a lot more to do with politics than religion.

Galileo and Pope Urban VIII were actually friends. Before he became pope, Urban had backed the astronomer in a scientific dispute with a cardinal. Even after assuming the papacy in 1623, he was supportive of Galileo’s work. The new pope gave the scientist permission to write about Copernicus’s new heliocentric model. But on one condition: Galileo had to treat the theory as a hypothesis, not as established fact.

Nine years later, Galileo presented his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World. To Urban's dismay, Galileo had broken his promise—spectacularly! The book not only presented Copernican ideology as fact, it mercilessly mocked the pope. 

An unintelligent character named "Simplicio" presented the Ptolemaic argument. Simplicio quotes Urban's own words to defend an all-powerful god. His arguments are crushed by the character representing Galileo.

Furious at being made a fool, the pope jailed Galileo. It's likely that he was motivated as much by the personal betrayal as the insult to Catholic doctrine. Galileo’s arrest announced to the world that the bishop of Rome was not to be humiliated.

350 years later, tempers had cooled. In 1979, Pope John Paul II addressed the "Galileo affair" head-on. Finding "no irreconcilable differences" between science and religion, he formed a commission of scientists, historians, and theologians to officially "rehabilitate" Galileo. The committee unanimously agreed: The Church had been wrong to imprison the famed astronomer.

Archbishop Paul Poupard edited the committee's published essays. He wrote that 17th century theologians mistakenly "transpose[d] a question of factual observation into the realm of faith." John Paul accepted the group’s recommendation. In 1992, he officially apologized to Galileo on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Famous Faces Edit


Copernicus fundamentally changed the way humans understand their place in the universe. At first, few people accepted his model—often due to their religious beliefs. Only a little over a century later, Sir Isaac Newton would revolutionize our understanding once again, and provide a scientific explanation for Copernicus’s model. Newton redefined processes once believed to be divinely caused, identifying them as the result of natural laws. Newton's work was much more quickly accepted, and would form the basis for all of modern physics.

The world had changed since Copernicus. While he marked the beginning of the remarkable scientific advances known as the Scientific Revolution, Newton marked the end. The world was now significantly more "modern," and scientific theory was less likely to encounter opposition from religious authorities.

In fact, Newton himself placed an equal, if not greater, emphasis on religion in his writing. The English scientist believed deeply in the necessity of God. He warned against the use of his scientific laws and theories to portray the cosmos as merely a machine. "Gravity explains the motions of the planets," he wrote, "but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion." Newton was clear about the limits of both science and faith, agreeing with Galileo's famous quip, "The Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, but not how the heavens go."

Sir Isaac extensively studied the scriptures and writings of the early Church Fathers. He was particularly fascinated with biblical prophecy, and even engaged in a little of his own: Newton predicted that the world would end in 2060!

But even in his spiritual musings, Newton was a scientist to his core. He applied the scientific method to his scriptural investigations, observing, hypothesizing, and testing his ideas to arrive at logical conclusions. For Newton, there was no separation between his scientific and religious explorations. They both had the same ultimate goal: to unlock the secrets of the natural world.

Primary source Edit

Preface to On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.

I can readily imagine, Holy Father, that as soon as some people hear that in this volume, which I have written about the revolutions of the spheres of the universe, I ascribe certain motions to the terrestrial globe, they will shout that I must be immediately repudiated together with this belief. For I am not so enamored of my own opinions that I disregard what others may think of them. I am aware that a philosopher's ideas are not subject to the judgement of ordinary persons, because it is his endeavor to seek the truth in all things, to the extent permitted to human reason by God. Yet I hold that completely erroneous views should be shunned. Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that the earth remains at rest in the middle of the heaven as its center would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion that the earth moves. Therefore I debated with myself for a long time whether to publish the volume which I wrote to prove the earth’s motion or rather to follow the example of the Pythagoreans and certain others, who used to transmit philosophy’s secrets only to kinsmen and friends, not in writing but by word of mouth, as is shown by Lysis' letter to Hipparchus. And they did so, it seems to me, not, as some suppose, because they were in some way jealous about their teachings, which would be spread around; on the contrary, they wanted the very beautiful thoughts attained by great men of deep devotion not to be ridiculed by those who are reluctant to exert themselves vigorously in any literary pursuit unless it is lucrative […] When I weighed these considerations, the scorn which I had reason to fear on account of the novelty and unconventionality of my opinion almost induced me to abandon completely the work which I had undertaken.


However, Your Holiness will perhaps not be greatly surprised that I have dared to publish my studies after devoting so much effort to working them out that I did not hesitate to put down my thoughts about the earth's motion in written form too. But you are rather waiting to hear from me how it occurred to me to venture to conceive any motion of the earth, against the traditional opinion of astronomers and almost against common sense. […] I was impelled to consider a different system of deducing the motions of the universe's spheres for no other reason than the realization that astronomers do not agree among themselves in their investigations of this subject. For, in the first place, they are so uncertain about the motion of the sun and moon that they cannot establish and observe a constant length even for the tropical year. Secondly, in determining the motions not only of these bodies but also of the other five planets, they do not use the same principles, assumptions, and explanations of the apparent revolutions and motions. […] On the contrary, their experience was just like someone taking from various places hands, feet, a head, and other pieces, very well depicted, it may be, but not for the representation of a single person; since these fragments would not belong to one another at all, a monster rather than a man would be put together from them.


I have no doubt that acute and learned astronomers will agree with me if, as this discipline especially requires, they are willing to examine and consider, not superficially but thoroughly, what I adduce in this volume in proof of these matters. However, in order that the educated and uneducated alike may see that I do not run away from the judgment of anybody at all, I have preferred dedicating my studies to Your Holiness rather than to anyone else. For even in this very remote comer of the earth where I live you are considered the highest authority by virtue of the loftiness of your office and your love for all literature and astronomy too. Hence by your prestige and judgment you can easily suppress calumnious attacks although, as the proverb has it, there is no remedy for a backbite.

Perhaps there will be babblers who claim to be judges of astronomy although completely ignorant of the subject and, badly distorting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, will dare to find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent of despising their criticism as unfounded. For it is not unknown that Lactantius, otherwise an illustrious writer but hardly an astronomer, speaks quite childishly about the earth's shape, when he mocks those who declared that the earth has the form of a globe. Hence scholars need not be surprised if any such persons will likewise ridicule me. Astronomy is written for astronomers. To them my work too will seem, unless I am mistaken, to make some contribution also to the Church, at the head of which Your Holiness now stands. […] But what I have accomplished in this regard, I leave to the judgement of Your Holiness in particular and of all other learned astronomers.

Copernicus, Nicholas. Preface. On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. 1543. Library of Congress.

Translated by Edward Rosen, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Newslea Edit

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