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Modeling the History of Astronomy: Ptolemy, Copernicus and Tycho Documents

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Main Document

Modeling the History of Astronomy: Ptolemy, Copernicus and Tycho 

written by Todd Timberlake

This paper, submitted to Astronomy Education Review, describes a series of activities in which students investigate and use the models of planetary motion introduced by the Hellenistic astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd Century, by the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in the mid-16th Century, and by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the late16th Century.  The activities involve the use of open source software to help students discover important observational facts, learn the necessary vocabulary, understand the fundamental properties of different theoretical models, and relate the theoretical models to observational data.  Once they understand the observations and models, students complete a series of projects in which they observe a fictitious solar system with four planets orbiting in circles around a central star and construct both Ptolemaic and Copernican models for that system.

The computer simulations, activity handouts, and project assignments discussed in the paper are all available in a ComPADRE shared file folder:

Published January 10, 2013
Last Modified January 14, 2013

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Supplemental Documents (2)

Activities on Using Stellarium to Observe Solar and Planetary Motions 

This zip archive contains two activity handouts that guide students through using open source planetarium software (Stellarium, available at to observe the apparent motions of the Sun and planets in our night sky.  These activities lay the observational groundwork for modeling the solar system using the Ptolemaic or Copernican theories.

Published January 4, 2013
Last Modified January 11, 2013

Modeling the History of Astronomy Poster 

A poster describing the same material, presented at the Winter Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, January 2013, New Orleans, LA.

Published January 11, 2013
Last Modified January 11, 2013

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