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SSE 2013-2014 Colloquium Series

Date: 09/19/13
Time: 5:00pm
Audience: Public
Sponsored By: SSE
Location: LC102
Contact: Tom Nolen, x3720,

"If Copernicus and Kepler Had Computers: An Introduction to Model-Building and Computational Science"

Professor Charles Van Loan, Department of Computer Science, Cornell University.

If you watch Mars against the backdrop of the fixed stars, then night after night you'll see rather steady progress across the zodiac. But every so often, the planet appears to "back-up" before continuing on its forward trek. This periodic, retrograde motion wreaks havoc with a model of the solar system that places each planet on a steadily rotating circle with Earth at the center. Ptolemy did a pretty good job patching up the model by placing each planet on a small rotating circle whose center is on the rim of a larger rotating circle. The path traced out is called an epicycle and it offers some explanation for Mars' orbital wanderings. The epicycle model lasted for centuries until Copernicus set the record straight by suggesting that the Earth revolved around the sun along with the other planets. But would he have been so bold a scientist if he had access to 2010 computers? Or would he have just mouse-clicked his way into fame, developing a simulation package that supported further tinkering with the Ptolemaic model?

Reception outside LC102, 4:30pm. Lecture in LC102, 5:00pm.