On July 5, 1687, the most revolutionary work in the history of science was published. Simply known as Principia, It is basically a comprehensive work of 3 books by Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th Century.
The author of this revolutionary work was Sir Isaac Newton, whom we widely recognize as one of the most influential scientists of all time. Though early in his career, Newton was often reluctant to publish his work. But eventually, with support from his peers, he started compiling his ideas, eventually publishing his work in the form of Principia Mathematica. The work also involved some contributions from Newton’s contemporaries and forebears.
This includes German scientist Johannes Kepler who found that planets had elliptical orbits. He made observations about the radii of orbits and how long revolutions took. But he couldn’t come up with a mathematical justification of why and how. This is where Newton accomplished. Using Kepler’s observations, Newton conceived a universal theory of gravitation that could apply to all celestial bodies, from the smallest moon to the largest star.
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What does Principia consist of?
Newton’s Principia Mathematics consists of a total of three books, written in Latin. Principia is well known for Newton’s laws of motion. These form the foundation of classical mechanics and Newton’s law of universal gravitation. It also contains a derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion which was earlier obtained by Kepler empirically.
The first book concerns the motion of objects in the absence of any resisting medium. It contains some proofs with little connection to real-world dynamics. But there are also sections with far-reaching applications to the solar system and universe. Book II mainly deals with motion through resisting mediums. Whereas, Book III is mainly an explanation of many consequences of universal gravitation, especially its consequences for astronomy.
Why is Principia Mathematica so important?
The legendary work of Newton in the form of Principia is one of the most important works in the history of science. It not only introduced the theory of gravity but also defined the principles of modern physics. It represents a transformational work. Though the content was considered difficult to understand, it played a fundamental role for Newton to receive the elite rank of scientific theorists.
The Principia provided a physical and mathematical basis for how the basic elements of the universe work and how celestial bodies move and interact with each other. In philosophical contexts, people usually regard Principia Mathematica as a demonstration of a logical system.
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The controversy and success
No doubt, Principia contained some revolutionary content but scientists found it very difficult to understand. Many of the era’s scholars couldn’t perceive it. These include Leibniz and Huygens, two of Newton’s great contemporaries. There were few people in the world studying mathematics at such a high level at that time. And the work seemed very theoretical, difficult to apply in the real world. However, over time, Principia has withstood and passed several tests of its fidelity, especially the first and third books.
The illustrious explanations provided by Sir Isaac Newton helped in spreading the light of mathematics on science which up to then had remained in the darkness. Hence, without any doubt, Principia is one of the most important and revolutionary works in the history of science.
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Editor at ‘The Secrets Of The Universe’, I have completed my Master’s in Physics from India and I am soon going to join Institute of Space Sciences, Barcelona for my doctoral studies on Exoplanets. I love to write about a plethora of topics concerned with planetary sciences, observational astrophysics, quantum mechanics and atomic physics, along with the advancements taking place in the space industry.