Johannes Kepler: the Astronomer at the Dawn of Science

Presented by Hans Gnodtke, ASSA

In Stephen Hawking's seminal history of Cosmology aptly titled after a quote from Newton "On the shoulders of Giants", Johannes Kepler is portrayed as one of the five Giants, the supreme geniuses, Hawking credits with shaping our modern understanding of the universe. Today Kepler is mostly and rightly so remembered for the laws of planetary motion that he computed and put into a coherent theory. Less known than his work on celestial mechanics is his astrometrical work as a surveyor and assistant to exiled Danish Astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague, whose records he secured after the Master's death and which allowed him his amazing discoveries on planetary motions. But he was also very much a child of his times, caught in the web of the outgoing middle ages and the brutal religious wars of the 17th century devastating central Europe. He tried in vain to avoid engagement in the struggle of modern science, against a traditional cosmology steeped in religious dogma, which to question was a mortal sin in the eyes of the holy inquisition. At one point Kepler had to defend his mother against another mortal danger, a very serious accusation of practicing witchcraft. Yet Kepler managed to defend his mother as well as his scientific findings and his belief in the venomous heresy of revolutionary Copernican and Galilean ideas. He corresponded with Galileo whose work he knew well and admired. Unlike Galileo though, he tried much harder to harmonise his findings with the "eternal truths" and teachings of the clergy as well as accepting and working around the fact, that superstition, alchemy and magic influenced "Science" much more than formal logic would be allowed to. He was the most sought after practitioner of astrology in his time and he supplied "scientific" horoscopes to the Kaiser's supreme commander, the mightiest warlord in the Holy Roman Empire. The Generalissimo trusted Kepler to the extent that he would not engage in battle without Kepler's astrological expertise. Kepler lived long enough to see his brilliant theories prevail and find recognition, and in doing so, he prepared the stage for Isaac Newton, another giant on Stephen Hawking's list. After Kepler explained how the cosmos worked, Newton could now explain why it worked the way it did and which forces were responsible for holding the World together. 

Bio: Hans Gnodtke joined ASSA in 2014, after retiring from more than 40 years in the German Diplomatic Service and settling in his Australian wife’s hometown of Adelaide. He was first bitten by the astronomy bug as a school boy in the late fifties, when the directors of the Argelander Observatory in his hometown Bonn, Rhineland, organised monthly lectures for interested amateurs. These were also the years when the construction of the then world’s largest Radio Telescope in Effelsberg near Bonn was becoming a reality. Since then he has served mainly in the Middle East and Africa. While Ambassador in Sudan his modest 10'SCT was the only functioning astronomical telescope in the country and Sudan's Scientists were happy to watch the 2005 Venus Transit in the German Embassy Garden. Later on, as German Consul General in Sydney, he was in the fortunate position to combine his job, and the funds that came with it, with his hobby. During the International Year of Astronomy in 2009 and with Fred Watson’s and David Malin's help, he concentrated his activities on supporting the close cooperation between the observatories in Bonn and Parkes, advocating for German participation in the SKA project and supporting the strengthening of ties between the Astrophysical Institute in Berlin / Potsdam, with Sydney University, and the AAO.


Free – visitors welcome – booking not required


(*Please note – university security locks entrance doors at 8pm sharp*)

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Event info

Wednesday 03 Jul 2019

8:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Kerr Grant Theatre 2nd Floor, Physics Building, University of Adelaide, North Tce Adelaide



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