Astronomy in the Czech lands I - from Tycho Brahe to Albert Einstein

10-02-2004

Welcome to Czech Science. In the next few weeks we'll be looking at one particular scientific discipline - astronomy - and its past and present in the Czech lands.

Tycho BraheTycho Brahe Professor Jan Palous is the director of the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In today's edition of Czech Science Professor Palous takes us back in time - to the beginning of the 17th century when astronomy was blooming at the court of the Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II.

"In the Czech lands, of course, the history is pretty long. We have some very famous names, for instance Tycho Brahe. He came to Prague at the beginning of the year 1600 and he was a very bright and very sharp observer of that époque. He had a lot of very precise data on planetary positions in the sky. And because of him, Johannes Kepler came to Prague and later he was able to use the data collected by Tycho Brahe. Actually the first two Kepler's Laws on the motion of planets around the Sun were formulated in Prague. Kepler spent twelve years in Prague and this was, let's say, a very nice époque for astronomy."

In the following centuries other great scholars of astronomy came to Prague from abroad to study and give lectures. Professor Jan Palous of the Czech Astronomical Institute.

"Later, I can give you a few more names: for instance Christian Doppler, who was a professor at Prague's Technical University in the first half of the 19th century. There he delivered a paper in which he announced his principle, later called the Doppler principle. It concerns the shift of the wavelengths of the sound waves or of light with the relative speed between the source of the waves and the receiver. This is what you can hear with a coming or departing train - you hear the change in the sound - and this is the Doppler effect. Of course, later on there were other very interesting names, for instance Ernst Mach who worked in Prague at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Then of course, we'd also like to mention Albert Einstein who spent two years here, in 1911-1912, and probably the general principle of relativity was formulated here."

And that's all we have time for today. In next week's Czech Science, Professor Palous will be talking about the more recent history of astronomy in this country.

10-02-2004