The scientific tourist #3 — Kepler's early solar system

This week’s “sciencey” tourism picture is of an early attempt at a model of the solar system by Johannes Kepler, on display at the Technisches Museum, Vienna (Wien):

Kepler's solar system

From the placard:

According to Ptolemaic belief, the distance between the planets were determined by “spheres,” which supported each other. On the other hand, to describe data from observations, the new Copernican world view had to act on the assumption of changed (relative) distances between the planets. However, at first it was not possible to theoretically justify this concept. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) worked towards an explanation and introduced a model in his 1596 work “Mysterium Cosmographicum” (The Sacred Mystery of the Cosmos) whereby the alternating distances of the planets could be geometrically calculated by means of the so-called “platonic bodies.” The order was, from the outside to the inside: Saturn – Cube – Jupiter – Tetrahedron – Mars – Dodecahedron – Earth – Icosahedron – Venus – Octahedron – Mercury. Despite insignificant differences of the model from the observations, its inventor later abolished it.

Unfortunately the museum placard neglects to mention that the “insignificant differences” boiled down to the fact that the planets follow elliptical (vs. circular) orbits — one of Kepler’s big contributions to our knowledge of the solar system and our understanding of physics.

Click on the above picture to get to the Flickr version of this image — it’ll give you lots of options for resizing and otherwise manipulating the source photo.

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2 Responses to The scientific tourist #3 — Kepler's early solar system

  1. i wish that some one would let my school of 8th graders come an see that we have not that much money for this trip but it would be a good expirence i’m am in the 8th at northwest jackson middle scool in jackson mississippi

  2. Sam Wise says:


    Sadly, there are a lot of miles between Mississippi and Vienna. I suspect it’d be easier to make a road trip happen.

    I did a bit of digging, and here are some science museums in neighboring states that look interesting (at least, judging by their web pages):

    Sci-Port Discovery Center (Shreveport, Louisiana — 217 mile drive)
    McWane Science Center (Birmingham, Alabama — 238 miles)
    Sci-Quest (Huntsville, Alabama — 336 miles)

    Sci-Port is the closest, but according to Mapquest it’s still a 3+ hour drive. It’d likely be tough to visit any of these as a school field trip (depending on how your school feels about over-night stays), but maybe your folks would be willing to make it a family outing?

    Anyway, you can get to the web pages for these museums by way of this site:

    Good luck, I hope this helps…

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