Johannes Kepler - Early Years

Early Years

Johannes Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, at the Free Imperial City of Weil der Stadt (now part of the Stuttgart Region in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, 30 km west of Stuttgart's center). His grandfather, Sebald Kepler, had been Lord Mayor of that town but, by the time Johannes was born, he had two brothers and one sister and the Kepler family fortune was in decline. His father, Heinrich Kepler, earned a precarious living as a mercenary, and he left the family when Johannes was five years old. He was believed to have died in the Eighty Years' War in the Netherlands. His mother Katharina Guldenmann, an inn-keeper's daughter, was a healer and herbalist who was later tried for witchcraft. Born prematurely, Johannes claimed to have been weak and sickly as a child. Nevertheless, he often impressed travelers at his grandfather's inn with his phenomenal mathematical faculty.

He was introduced to astronomy at an early age, and developed a love for it that would span his entire life. At age six, he observed the Great Comet of 1577, writing that he "was taken by mother to a high place to look at it." At age nine, he observed another astronomical event, a lunar eclipse in 1580, recording that he remembered being "called outdoors" to see it and that the moon "appeared quite red". However, childhood smallpox left him with weak vision and crippled hands, limiting his ability in the observational aspects of astronomy.

In 1589, after moving through grammar school, Latin school, and seminary at Maulbronn, Kepler attended Tübinger Stift at the University of Tübingen. There, he studied philosophy under Vitus Müller and theology under Jacob Heerbrand (a student of Philipp Melanchthon at Wittenberg), who also taught Michael Maestlin while he was a student, until he became Chancellor at Tübingen in 1590. He proved himself to be a superb mathematician and earned a reputation as a skillful astrologer, casting horoscopes for fellow students. Under the instruction of Michael Maestlin, Tübingen's professor of mathematics from 1583 to 1631, he learned both the Ptolemaic system and the Copernican system of planetary motion. He became a Copernican at that time. In a student disputation, he defended heliocentrism from both a theoretical and theological perspective, maintaining that the Sun was the principal source of motive power in the universe. Despite his desire to become a minister, near the end of his studies Kepler was recommended for a position as teacher of mathematics and astronomy at the Protestant school in Graz (later the University of Graz). He accepted the position in April 1594, at the age of 23.

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