From the time of Aristotle through to the 1500s, the dominant model of the universe had the sun, planets, and stars orbiting around the Earth.
This simple model, however, did not match what could be seen in the skies. Venus appears in the evening or morning. It never crosses the night sky as we would expect if it were orbiting the Earth. Jupiter moves across the night sky but will abruptly turn around and go back the other way.
To deal with these ‘anomalies’, Greek astronomers developed a model with planets orbiting around two spheres. A large sphere called the deferent is centered on the Earth, providing the classic geocentric orbit. The smaller spheres, called epicycles, are centered on the rim of the larger sphere. The planets orbit those epicycles on the rim. This combination of two orbits allowed planets to shift back and forth across the sky.
But epicycles were still not enough to describe what could be observed. Earth needed to be offset from the center of the deferent to generate the uneven length of seasons. The deferent had to rotate at varying speeds to capture the observed planetary orbits. And so on. The result was a complicated pattern of deviations and fixes to this model of the sun, planets, and stars orbiting around the Earth.
Instead of this model of deviations and epicycles, what about an alternative model? What about a model where the Earth and the planets travel in elliptical orbits around the sun?
By adopting this new model of the solar system, a large collection of deviations was shaped into a coherent model. The retrograde movements of the planets were given a simple explanation. The act of prediction became easier as a model that otherwise allowed astronomers to muddle through became more closely linked to the reality it was trying to describe.
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