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The Copernican episode is a good example of how the scientific method, though affected at any given time by the subjective whims, human biases, and even sheer luck of researchers, does ultimately lead to a definite degree of objectivity. Over time, many groups of scientists checking, confirming, and refining experimental tests can neutralize the subjective attitudes of individuals. Usually one generation of scientists can bring sufficient objectivity to bear on a problem, though some especially revolutionary concepts are so swamped by tradition, religion, and politics that more time is necessary. In the case of heliocentricity, objective confirmation was not obtained until about three centuries after Copernicus published his work and more than 2000 years after Aristarchus had proposed the concept. Nonetheless, that objectivity did in fact eventually prevail.
Newton's laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation provided a theoretical explanation for Kepler's empirical laws of planetary motion. Just as Kepler modified Copernicus's model by introducing ellipses rather than circles, so too did Newton make corrections to Kepler's first and third laws. It turns out that a planet does not orbit the exact center of the Sun. Instead, both the planet and the Sun orbit their common center of mass. Because the Sun and the planet feel equal and opposite gravitational forces (by Newton's third law), the Sun must also move (by Newton's first law), driven by the gravitational influence of the planet. The Sun is so much more massive than any planet that the center of mass of the planet—Sun system is very close to the center of the Sun, which is why Kepler's laws are so accurate.
Figure 2.22 (a) The orbits of two bodies (stars, for example) with equal masses, under the influence of their mutual gravity, are identical ellipses with a common focus. That focus is not at the center of either star but instead is located at the center of mass of the pair, midway between them. The positions of the two bodies at three different times are indicated by the pairs of numbers. (Notice that a line joining the bodies always passes through the common focus.) (b) The orbits of two bodies, one of which is twice as massive as the other. Again, the elliptical orbits have a common focus, and the two ellipses have the same eccentricity. However, in accordance with Newton's laws of motion, the more massive body moves more slowly, and in a smaller orbit, staying closer to the center of mass (at the common focus). In this particular case, the larger ellipse is twice the size of the smaller one. (c) In this extreme case of a hypothetical planet orbiting the Sun, the common focus of the two orbits lies inside the Sun.