Astronomer Kepler ‘may have practised alchemy

Johannes Kepler, a key figure in the scientific revolution and keen astrologer, paid the bills by writing horoscopes for the rich and famous. The namesake of NASA’s space observatory was a German scholar who wrote extensively on how the patterns of the stars had profound effects on planets such as Earth as well as on individuals’ lives.

A FIRM BELIEVER in God, mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was of the view that “Great is God our Lord, great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom”. The scientist perceived God everywhere in the external world. He was the first astrophysicist and the last scientific astrologer. Pioneering astronomer Johannes Kepler may have dabbled in the ancient practice of alchemy, researchers have suggested. A team found traces of metals associated with the practice on manuscript pages written by the German astronomer.
High levels of gold, silver, mercury and lead
Analysis of pages, from ‘Hipparchus’, his manuscript about the moon, found high levels of metals like gold, silver, mercury and lead, by using analytical chemistry.
Alchemy, an ancient branch of natural philosophy, was still practised in the 16th and 17th centuries, even used by Elizabeth I’s adviser John Dee.
A key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution, Kepler was ‘willing to get his hands dirty’, the study because of the significant amount of metals discovered.

Astronomer Johannes Kepler may have practised alchemy after finding metals associated with the practice on his manuscripts. Here is a page from one of his manuscripts. Pictured centre, the red and green blobs indicate where the researchers found mercury and far right, the green shows where lead was found.

Derived from Al- Kimiya
Alchemy or Al-Kimiya is derived from Syriac Kimiya which in its turn goes back to Greek. The Arabs believed that al-k?miy? was a loanword from Persian, meaning “artifice and acuteness”. Based on the belief that there are four basic elements in nature— air, fire, water and earth, Alchemy was an ancient practice shrouded in mystery. Its practitioners mainly sought to turn lead into gold.
He is renowned for his laws of planetary motion that was based on his works ‘Epitome of Copernican Astronomy’, ‘Astronomia nova’ and ‘Harmonices Mundi’. His thoughts and works also laid the foundation for universal gravitation as propounded by Issac Newton. He also made significant contribution to the fields of philosophy, geometry and optics. He has been the most illustrious figures in astronomy and a number of astral elements were named after him including ‘The Kepler Moon Crater’ and ‘Kepler’s Crater on Mars’. We bring to you words, thoughts, opinions, quotes and sayings by Johannes Kepler, a genius mathematician hero.
Planetary motion
Kepler drew on Copernicus’s work to find laws of planetary motion that paved the way for Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.
He is known as a mathematician and astronomer, although the historical record does not reveal whether he also studied alchemy.
Alchemy back then was shrouded in mystery and secrecy, mainly seeking to ancient to turn base metals like lead into gold and silver.
It was also rooted in a complex spiritual worldview and thought to cure disease and prolong life.
A team led by biotechnologist Gleb Zilberstein and chemist Pier Giorgio Righetti found very significant amounts of metals on the pages of Kepler’s manuscript about the moon, catalogued as ‘Hipparchus’.
They point out that alchemy was still popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The study suggests that Kepler could have learned the ‘pseudo-chemical science’ from his colleague Tycho Brahe. Brache, from Denmark, was also an astronomer, and writer known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations.
Brahe, known for his interest in alchemy, had invited Kepler to join him at in Prague the court of Rudolf II in Castle Benatky in 1600.
Brahe built an alchemical laboratory on the island of Hven, a small Swedish island, which had 16 furnaces and equipment for the purification of metals.
Alchemy practitioners mainly sought to turn lead into gold, a quest that has captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years. However, the goals of alchemy went far beyond simply creating some golden nuggets. Alchemy was rooted in a complex spiritual worldview in which everything around us contains a sort of universal spirit, and metals were believed not only to be alive but also to grow inside the Earth. When a base, or common, metal such as lead was found, it was thought to simply be a spiritually and physically immature form of higher metals such as gold.
Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion
Kepler was assigned the task by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to analyze the observations that Tycho had made of Mars. Of all the planets, the predicted position of Mars had the largest errors and therefore posed the greatest problem. Tycho’s data were the best available before the invention of the telescope and the accuracy was good enough for Kepler to show that Mars’ orbit would precisely fit an ellipse. In 1605 he announced The First Law:
Planets move in ellipses with the Sun at one focus.
While Copernicus and Galileo often receive the credit in the popular imagination, it was Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) who discovered and demonstrated that the Earth orbits the Sun. In his 1609 work, Astronomia Nova (“The New Astronomy”), Kepler demolished the Aristotelian cosmography of perfect forms and unknowable causes, forever changed man’s sense of his place in the Universe, helped launch the scientific revolution—and also identified problems which would motivate the development of calculus. By introducing readers to key steps in Kepler’s process of discovery, this web module aims to inspire individuals to ask new questions and blaze a path towards discoveries of their own.
From ancient times to the present, the motion of the stars has inspired human observers with a powerful sense of wonder.
From a vantage point in the Northern Hemisphere, each night stars trace out wide circular arcs around the North Star, Polaris, returning to the place where they started over an approximately 24 hour period.
Some stars, however, seem to move at a different rate than the others. The ancient Greeks called these stars “wanderers” or planetes in their language.
When the movement of these wandering stars is charted over the course of multiple nights relative to the motion of the “fixed stars,” they alternately speed up and slow down, tracing out tangled curves and irregular squiggles over time.
The “fixed stars” are so far away that they do not appear to move within a human lifetime, as observed through the instruments of Kepler’s day.
The Sun also moves irregularly with respect to the fixed stars of the celestial sphere.
Kepler said, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses. Why are things as they are and not otherwise? We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens.”
Scientists think groundbreaking astronomer Kepler ‘may have practiced alchemy’ after finding gold, silver, mercury and lead traces on his manuscripts.
Kepler’s manuscripts had high levels of metals used in a pseudoscience.Chemical analysis of manuscripts suggests he was ‘willing to get his hands dirty’.

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