Humble Pie by Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak
There's a well-known historical event that astronomers routinely cite whenever they wish to prove their modesty: it's called the Copernican Revolution. It taught us to always assume that our circumstances are typical, rather than special -- that we're just another kid on the block, another bird in the flock. But today, this comfortable modesty may be headed to a very uncomfortable extreme.
Unlike other revolutions, the one begun by Copernicus didn't feature peasants with pitchforks. Instead of taking on the aristocracy, it took on Aristotle -- who had flogged the appealing idea that all of creation pivoted around the Earth, a view that Copernicus challenged. Because Aristotle had been dead for two thousand years, he didn't fight back.
The new paradigm was that the planets orbited the Sun, rather than the Earth -- a seismic shift in cosmological thought that removed us from the center of the cosmos forever. Hubris was out, although not very far out. Copernicus shifted the nexus of the universe to the Sun which, as every school kid knows, is merely 93 million miles from the location favored by Aristotle.
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