12. At the commencement of the sixteenth century, Copernicus, a celebrated astronomer, born at Thorn, Prussia, in 1472, and who died in 1543, reproduced the ideas of Pythagoras. He published a system which, confirmed each day by new observations, was favorably received, and was not long in proving that of Ptolemy to be unreliable. According to this system, the sun is the center; the planets describe circular orbs around this body of light; the moon is a satellite of the Earth.
A century later, in 1609, Galileo, born at Florence, invented the telescope. In 1610 he discovered the four satellites of Jupiter, and calculated their revolutions. He recognized that the planets have no light like the stars, but that they receive light from the sun; that they are spheres similar to the Earth. He observed their phases, and determined the duration of their rotation upon their axes. He thus gave, by material proofs, a definite sanction to the system of Copernicus.
From this period the belief in superposed heavens was extinguished. The stars are innumerable suns, probable centers of as many planetary systems. The planets were recognized as worlds similar to the Earth, and like it, without doubt, inhabited. The sun was believed to be a star, and the center around which the planets, which are subject to it, revolve.
The stars are no more confined to a zone of the celestial sphere, but are irregularly disseminated in limitless space. Those which appear to touch each other are immeasurable distances apart. The smallest, in appearance, are the farthest from us; the largest, those which are nearest, are hundreds of thousands millions of miles distant from us.
The groups which have gained the name of constellations are only apparent assemblages caused by distance, perspective effects, such as appear to the view of him who is placed at a fixed point from lights dispersed over a vast plain, or the trees of a forest. But these assemblages do not in reality exist. If one could be transported into the region of one of these constellations by measure, as one would approach, the form would disappear, and new groups would design themselves to the sight.
Since these groups do not really exist, the signification that a common superstitious belief attributes to them is illusory, as they have only as groups an imaginary existence.
In order to distinguish the constellations, names have been given to them, such as these of: Lion, Bull, Twins, Virgin, Balance, Goat, Crab, Orion, Hercules, Great Bear or Chariot of David, Little Bear, Lyre, etc.; and they have been represented by figures corresponding to these names, but which in every case have but fanciful connection with the apparent forms of the starry groups. We should then seek in vain for these figures in the sky.
The belief in the influence of the constellations, particularly those which constitute the twelve signs of the Zodiac, comes from the idea attached to the names they bear. If that which is called Lion had been named Donkey or Lamb, people would have attributed to it a totally different influence.