da Novara, Domenico Maria
Born Ferrara, Italy, 29 July or 1 August 1454
Died Bologna, Italy, 15 or 18 August 1504
Domenico da Novara was a teacher of Nicolaus Copernicus .
Domenico’s family name was Ploti; they originated in Novara, a city in northwestern Italy, and later moved to Ferrara in northeastern Italy, where Domenico was born. He obtained both the title of Doctor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine, but we do not know at which university he studied. A possible record of his education is contained in an astrological text ascribed to Dominicus. The author testifies he was a pupil of Johann Müller (Regiomontanus), who traveled in Italy between 1460 and 1467 and later between 1472 and 1475 and lived in various Italian cities for long periods, including Ferrara. In any case, da Novara taught astronomy at Bologna University from 1483 till his death.
During this period da Novara was requested to publish prognostications for every year; many of them (in Italian and Latin) have survived and represent the only works we know by him. Apart from the astrological judgments they contain, the interesting parts of these publications are the preambles, where he discusses his scientific and philosophical theories.
The most famous was the prologue for the prognostication of 1489, in which da Novara presented his theory on the shift of the terrestrial polar axis. This was based on the comparison of the latitudes of Cádiz in Spain and several places in Italy, determined in his own time, with those reported in Ptolemy ’s Geography. His conclusions were wrong, because they were based on unreliable data, but they are important because they represent one of the first attempts to suppose an Earth not at rest.
From later sources we know da Novara computed the obliquity of the ecliptic in 1492, obtaining a value very close to the actual one for this year.
Between the end of 1496 and the beginning of 1497, Copernicus registered in the Public Register of the German College in Bologna University. No record of his life in Bologna can be found in Copernicus’s works, but Rheticus later reported that Copernicus lived in da Novara’s house and helped him in his astronomical observations. Three of these observations are indeed reported by Copernicus: the observation of Aldebaran eclipsed by the Moon on 9 March 1497 and the observations of the conjunction of Saturn with the Moon on 9 January 1500 and 4 March 1500.
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