Heliocentric system over geocentric system
When the motion of the planets are observed in the night sky by naked eyes over a period of a few months, it can be seen that the planets move eastwards and reverse their motion for a while and return to eastward motion again. This is called “retrograde motion” of planets.
Figure 6.25 shows the retrograde motion of the planet Mars. Careful observation for a period of a year clearly shows that Mars initially moves eastwards (February to June), then reverses its path and moves backwards (July, August, September). It changes its direction of motion once again and continues its forward motion (October onwards) . In olden days, astronomers recorded the retrograde motion of all visible planets and tried to explain the motion. According to Aristotle, the other planets and the Sun move around the Earth in the circular orbits.
If it was really a circular orbit it was not known how the planet could reverse its motion for a brief interval. To explain this retrograde motion, Ptolemy introduced the concept of “epicycle” in his geocentric model. According to this theory, while the planet orbited the Earth, it also underwent another circular motion termed as “epicycle”. A combination of epicycle and circular motion around the Earth gave rise to retrograde motion of the planets with respect to Earth (Figure 6.26). Essentially Ptolemy retained the Earth centric idea of Aristotle and added the epicycle motion to it.
But Ptolemy’s model became more and more complex as every planet was found to undergo retrograde motion. In the 15th century, the Polish astronomer Copernicus proposed the heliocentric model to explain this problem in a simpler manner. According to this model, the Sun is at the center of the solar system and all planets orbited the Sun. The retrograde motion of planets with respect to Earth is because of the relative motion of the planet with respect to Earth. The retrograde motion from the heliocentric point of view is shown in Figure 6.27.
Figure 6.27 shows that the Earth orbits around the Sun faster than Mars. Because of the relative motion between Mars and Earth, Mars appears to move backwards from July to October. In the same way the retrograde motion of all other planets was explained successfully by the Copernicus model. It was because of its simplicity, the heliocentric model slowly replaced the geocentric model. Historically, if any natural phenomenon has one or more explanations, the simplest one is usually accepted. Though this was not the only reason to disqualify the geocentric model, a detailed discussion on correctness of the Copernicus model over to Ptolemy’s model can be found in astronomy books.