Not everything revolves around us!

The image contains 100s of bright, almost glowing, splodges with a darker background. The splodges appear to be connected with strands, almost like a web.

Simulated image of the universe created by Durham University’s EAGLE project. (Image Credit: Durham University)

In ancient times, people believed that everything in space circled Earth. Copernicus shook things up in the 1500s by proposing the Sun was at the centre of the Universe. Astronomers today know the Sun is just one star among billions in the Milky Way.

You wake up every morning to the Sun's magical dance, only to watch it disappear at night. For our ancient ancestors, it seemed like the Earth stood still and the Sun spun around it. This idea of everything orbiting Earth is called the geocentric model.

But as our maths skills got better, we faced a cosmic conundrum! The geocentric model didn't quite add up. That's when the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus burst onto the scene. In 1543, through careful calculations, he proved that the planets in our solar system were the real cosmic travellers, circling the Sun not Earth. This ground-breaking revelation is called the heliocentric model.

Today, we know the Sun is just one star in our Milky Way galaxy. Thanks to amazing telescopes, we've charted billions of galaxies in the vast Universe! 

Did you know... 

The Solar System isn’t just the Sun and its eight planets. It also has five dwarf planets, at least 290 moons, about 3900 comets and more than 1.3 million asteroids!

Relevance today

There are parts of the universe we cannot even see with the biggest telescopes. Every day, local scientists like those at Durham University use supercomputers to try to understand them.

Related artefacts

Location: Newcastle University Library

‘Cosmographia’ by Peter Apian, 1545

This book shows examples of the geocentric model. It also includes several moving parts called volvelles. Volvelles were charts used to show the position of the Sun, make measurements of the sky and predict the phase of the Moon. In the book, Apian also shows that Earth is round by looking at its shadow on the Moon’s surface during an eclipse.

Location: Newcastle University Library

 ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres’ by Nicolaus Copernicus, 1617

This revolutionary work by astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) proposed that the Sun was at the centre of our Solar System rather than Earth. This idea is called the heliocentric model. It helped to explain the different movements of the planets across the sky which the geocentric model could not explain.

Photo of Collingwood's night telescope. It is a brown, leather looking tube mounted on a brass stand.

Location: Tyne & Wear Museum Archive, object number: TWCMS : 1999.2544

Lord Admiral Collingwood's night telescope

When you think of telescopes you might imagine one like this. This amazing telescope was used by Admiral Lord Collingwood during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Its special lenses could be used to see enemy ships at night. Collingwood was born in Newcastle in 1748 and went to sea when he was only thirteen.