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Aristarchus of Samos Biography


Aristarchus of Samos was a Greek astronomer and mathematician who lived from approximately 310BC through approximately 250BC. Although he was occasionally written about by early scientists and philosophers, especially Archimedes, very little is known about his life. He was a student of Strato of Lampsacus, head of Aristotle's Lyceum. These studies apparently did not take place in Athens, but rather during the time when Strato was head of the Lyceum at Alexandria. This was probably shortly after he took over in 287 BC.

Aristarchus is best known for two things, his belief that the Earth revolves around the Sun and his work attempting to determine the sizes and distances of the sun and moon. Although he wrote many volumes of commentary and analyses, his only surviving work, "On the Dimensions and Distances of the Sun and Moon," does not provide any insight into his heliocentric view of the universe. While the method he describes in it for obtaining the sizes and distances of the sun and moon are basically correct, his final estimates were wrong more due to a lack of accurate instruments and an inadequate knowledge of mathematics than to his methods.

It is said that Nicolaus Copernicus, himself, at first credited Aristarchus in his treatise, "De revolutionibus caelestibus," In it he wrote, "Philolaus believed in the mobility of the earth, and some even say that Aristarchus of Samos was of that opinion." This line was crossed out prior to its publication.

As with his birth and life, little is known of his death. A crater on the moon is named for him, in its center is a peak which is the brightest formation on the Moon.

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