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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Orbit Quotes (36 quotes)

Dogbert: So, Since Columbus is dead, you have no evidence that the earth is round.
Dilbert: Look. You can Ask Senator John Glenn. He orbited the earth when he was an astronaut.
Dogbert: So, your theory depends on the honesty of politicians.
Dilbert: Yes... no, wait...
Dilbert comic strip (10 Oct 1989).
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[Of the Laputans:] They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the centre of the primary planet exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty one and a half.
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 3, 213.
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A rock or stone is not a subject that, of itself, may interest a philosopher to study; but, when he comes to see the necessity of those hard bodies, in the constitution of this earth, or for the permanency of the land on which we dwell, and when he finds that there are means wisely provided for the renovation of this necessary decaying part, as well as that of every other, he then, with pleasure, contemplates this manifestation of design, and thus connects the mineral system of this earth with that by which the heavenly bodies are made to move perpetually in their orbits.
Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and l1lustrations, Vol. 1 (1795), 276.
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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point... . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy's in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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As he sat alone in a garden, he [Isaac Newton in 1666, age 24] fell into a speculation on the power of gravity; that as this power is not found sensibly diminished at the remotest distance from the centre of the earth to which we can rise, neither at the tops of the loftiest buildings, nor even on the summits of the highest mountains, it appeared to him reasonable to conclude that this power must extend much further than was usually thought: why not as high as the moon? said he to himself; and if so, her motion must be influenced by it; perhaps she is retained in her orbit thereby.
View of Newton's Philosophy (1728), preface. In William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 166. Pemberton's narrative is based on firsthand conversations with Newton himself.
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As to what Simplicius said last, that to contend whether the parts of the Sun, Moon, or other celestial body, separated from their whole, should naturally return to it, is a vanity, for that the case is impossible, it being clear by the demonstrations of Aristotle that the celestial bodies are impassible, impenetrable, unpartable, etc., I answer that none of the conditions whereby Aristotle distinguishes the celestial bodies from the elementary has any foundation other than what he deduces from the diversity of their natural motions; so that, if it is denied that the circular motion is peculiar to celestial bodies, and affirmed instead that it is agreeable to all naturally moveable bodies, one is led by necessary confidence to say either that the attributes of generated or ungenerated, alterable or unalterable, partable or unpartable, etc., equally and commonly apply to all bodies, as well to the celestial as to the elementary, or that Aristotle has badly and erroneously deduced those from the circular motion which he has assigned to celestial bodies.
Dialogue on the Great World Systems (1632). Revised and Annotated by Giorgio De Santillana (1953), 45.
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Astronomy teaches the correct use of the sun and the planets. These may be put on a frame of little sticks and turned round. This causes the tides. Those at the ends of the sticks are enormously far away. From time to time a diligent searching of the sticks reveals new planets. The orbit of the planet is the distance the stick goes round in going round. Astronomy is intensely interesting; it should be done at night, in a high tower at Spitzbergen. This is to avoid the astronomy being interrupted. A really good astronomer can tell when a comet is coming too near him by the warning buzz of the revolving sticks.
Literary Lapses (1928), 128.
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But what exceeds all wonders, I have discovered four new planets and observed their proper and particular motions, different among themselves and from the motions of all the other stars; and these new planets move about another very large star [Jupiter] like Venus and Mercury, and perchance the other known planets, move about the Sun. As soon as this tract, which I shall send to all the philosophers and mathematicians as an announcement, is finished, I shall send a copy to the Most Serene Grand Duke, together with an excellent spyglass, so that he can verify all these truths.
Letter to the Tuscan Court, 30 Jan 1610. Quoted in Albert van Heiden (ed.), Siderius Nuncius or The Sidereal Messenger (1989), 18.
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By death the moon was gathered in Long ago, ah long ago;
Yet still the silver corpse must spin
And with another's light must glow.
Her frozen mountains must forget
Their primal hot volcanic breath,
Doomed to revolve for ages yet,
Void amphitheatres of death.
And all about the cosmic sky,
The black that lies beyond our blue,
Dead stars innumerable lie,
And stars of red and angry hue
Not dead but doomed to die.
'Cosmic Death' (1923), in The Captive Shrew and Other Poems of a Biologist (1932), 30.
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Here lies Sir Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a vigour of mind almost supernatural, first demonstrated, the motions and Figures of the Planets, the Paths of the comets, and the Tides of the Oceans ... Let Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of Nature.
Epitaph
Inscribed on the tomb of Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.
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I had made considerable advance ... in calculations on my favourite numerical lunar theory, when I discovered that, under the heavy pressure of unusual matters (two transits of Venus and some eclipses) I had committed a grievous error in the first stage of giving numerical value to my theory. My spirit in the work was broken, and I have never heartily proceeded with it since.
[Concerning his calculations on the orbital motion of the Moon.]
Private note (29 Sep 1890). In George Biddell Airy and Wilfrid Airy (ed.), Autobiography of Sir George Biddell Airy (1896), 350.
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I shall explain a System of the World differing in many particulars from any yet known, answering in all things to the common Rules of Mechanical Motions: This depends upon three Suppositions. First, That all Cœlestial Bodies whatsoever, have an attraction or gravitating power towards their own Centers, whereby they attract not only their own parts, and keep them from flying from them, as we may observe the Earth to do, but that they do also attract all the other Cœlestial bodies that are within the sphere of their activity; and consequently that not only the Sun and Moon have an influence upon the body and motion the Earth, and the Earth upon them, but that Mercury also Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter by their attractive powers, have a considerable influence upon its motion in the same manner the corresponding attractive power of the Earth hath a considerable influence upon every one of their motions also. The second supposition is this, That all bodies whatsoever that are put into a direct and simple motion, will continue to move forward in a streight line, till they are by some other effectual powers deflected and bent into a Motion, describing a Circle, Ellipse, or some other more compounded Curve Line. The third supposition is, That these attractive powers are so much the more powerful in operating, by how much the nearer the body wrought upon is to their own Centers. Now what these several degrees are I have not yet experimentally verified; but it is a notion, which if fully prosecuted as it ought to be, will mightily assist the Astronomer to reduce all the Cœlestial Motions to a certain rule, which I doubt will never be done true without it. He that understands the nature of the Circular Pendulum and Circular Motion, will easily understand the whole ground of this Principle, and will know where to find direction in Nature for the true stating thereof. This I only hint at present to such as have ability and opportunity of prosecuting this Inquiry, and are not wanting of Industry for observing and calculating, wishing heartily such may be found, having myself many other things in hand which I would first compleat and therefore cannot so well attend it. But this I durst promise the Undertaker, that he will find all the Great Motions of the World to be influenced by this Principle, and that the true understanding thereof will be the true perfection of Astronomy.
An Attempt to Prove the Motion of the Earth from Observations (1674), 27-8. Based on a Cutlerian Lecture delivered by Hooke at the Royal Society four years earlier.
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If one might wish for impossibilities, I might then wish that my children might be well versed in physical science, but in due subordination to the fulness and freshness of their knowledge on moral subjects. ... Rather than have it the principal thing in my son's mind, I would gladly have him think that the sun went round the earth, and that the stars were so many spangles set in the bright blue firmament.
Letter to Dr. Greenhill (9 May 1836). In Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold (2nd Ed., 1846), 277.
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In 1684 Dr Halley came to visit him at Cambridge, after they had been some time together, the Dr asked him what he thought the Curve would be that would be described by the Planets supposing the force of attraction towards the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it. Sr Isaac replied immediately that it would be an Ellipsis, the Doctor struck with joy & amazement asked him how he knew it, why saith he I have calculated it, whereupon Dr Halley asked him for his calculation without any farther delay. Sr Isaac looked among his papers but could not find it, but he promised him to renew it, & then to send it him.
[Recollecting Newton's account of the meeting after which Halley prompted Newton to write The Principia. When asking Newton this question, Halley was aware, without revealing it to Newton that Robert Hooke had made this hypothesis of plantary motion a decade earlier.]
Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 403.
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In the beginning of the year 1665 I found the Method of approximating series & the Rule for reducing any dignity of any Bionomial into such a series. The same year in May I found the method of Tangents of Gregory & Slusius, & in November had the direct method of fluxions & the next year in January had the Theory of Colours & in May following I had entrance into ye inverse method of fluxions. And the same year I began to think of gravity extending to ye orb of the Moon & (having found out how to estimate the force with wch [a] globe revolving within a sphere presses the surface of the sphere) from Keplers rule of the periodic times of the Planets being in sesquialterate proportion of their distances from the center of their Orbs, I deduced that the forces wch keep the Planets in their Orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about wch they revolve: & thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her Orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the earth, & found them answer pretty nearly. All this was in the two plague years of 1665-1666. For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematicks & Philosophy more then than at any time since.
Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 143.
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In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge... to his mother in Lincolnshire & whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (wch brought an apple from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but that this power must extend much farther than was usually thought. Why not as high as the moon said he to himself & if so that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition but being absent from books & taking the common estimate in use among Geographers & our seamen before Norwood had measured the earth, that 60 English miles were contained in one degree of latitude on the surface of the Earth his computation did not agree with his theory & inclined him then to entertain a notion that together with the force of gravity there might be a mixture of that force wch the moon would have if it was carried along in a vortex.
[The earliest account of Newton, gravity and an apple.]
Memorandum of a conversation with Newton in August 1726. Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 154.
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It is clear that the earth does not move, and that it does not lie elsewhere than at the center.
Aristotle
On the Heavens (2004), 54.
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It will be possible in a few more years to build radio controlled rockets which can be steered into such orbits beyond the limits of the atmosphere and left to broadcast scientific information back to the Earth. A little later, manned rockets will be able to make similar flights with sufficient excess power to break the orbit and return to Earth. (1945) [Predicting communications satellites.]
In 'Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Coverage?', Wireless World (Oct 1945). Quoted and cited in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 21.
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It [the earth] alone remains immoveable, whilst all things revolve round it.
History, 2, 11. Trans. H. Rackham, Pliny: Natural History, corrected edition (1949), Vol. 1, 177.
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Kepler's laws, although not rigidly true, are sufficiently near to the truth to have led to the discovery of the law of attraction of the bodies of the solar system. The deviation from complete accuracy is due to the facts, that the planets are not of inappreciable mass, that, in consequence, they disturb each other's orbits about the Sun, and, by their action on the Sun itself, cause the periodic time of each to be shorter than if the Sun were a fixed body, in the subduplicate ratio of the mass of the Sun to the sum of the masses of the Sun and Planet; these errors are appreciable although very small, since the mass of the largest of the planets, Jupiter, is less than 1/1000th of the Sun's mass.
In Isaac Newton and Percival Frost (ed.) Newton's Principia: Sections I, II, III (1863), 216.
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Oh! That the Chemist's magic art
Could crystallize this sacred treasure!...
That very law which moulds a tear,
And bids it trickle from its source;
That law preserves the earth a sphere,
And guides the planets in their course.

&$039;On a Tear', in Samuel Rogers et al., The Poetical Works of Rogers, Campbell, J. Montombery, Lamb, and Kirke White (1836), 101.
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One of the most striking results of modern investigation has been the way in which several different and quite independent lines of evidence indicate that a very great event occurred about two thousand million years ago. The radio-active evidence for the age of meteorites; and the estimated time for the tidal evolution of the Moon's orbit (though this is much rougher), all agree in their testimony, and, what is far more important, the red-shift in the nebulae indicates that this date is fundamental, not merely in the history of our system, but in that of the material universe as a whole.
The Solar System and its Origin (1935), 137.
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One orbit, with a radius of 42,000 kilometers, has a period of exactly 24 hours. A body in such an orbit, if its plane coincided with that of the Earth’s equator, would revolve with the Earth and would thus be stationary above the same spot on the planet. It would remain fixed in the sky of a whole hemisphere ... [to] provide coverage to half the globe, and for a world service three would be required, though more could be readily utilized. (1945) [Predidicting geosynchronous communication satellites]
In 'Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Coverage?', Wireless World (Oct 1945). Quoted and cited in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 22.
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Scientists constantly get clobbered with the idea that we spent 27 billion dollars on the Apollo programs, and are asked “What more do you want?” We didn't spend it; it was done for political reasons. ... Apollo was a response to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and to the successful orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy's objective was not to find out the origin of the moon by the end of the decade; rather it was to put a man on the moon and bring him back, and we did that.
Quoted by Dennis Meredith, in 'Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection and Extraterrestrial Life-Wish', Science Digest (Jun 1979), 85, 38 & 89. Reproduced in Carl Sagan and Tom Head, Conversations With Sagan (2006), 55-56.
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Seeing therefore the variety of Motion which we find in the World is always decreasing, there is a necessity of conserving and recruiting it by active Principles, such as are the cause of Gravity, by which Planets and Comets keep their Motions in their Orbs, and Bodies acquire great Motion in falling; and the cause of Fermentation, by which the Heart and Blood of Animals are kept in perpetual Motion and Heat; the inward Parts of the Earth are constantly warm'd, and in some places grow very hot; Bodies burn and shine, Mountains take fire, the Caverns of the Earth are blown up, and the Sun continues violently hot and lucid, and warms all things by his Light. For we meet with very little Motion in the World, besides what is owing to these active Principles.
Opticks, 2nd edition (1718), Book 3, Query 31, 375.
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So, Fabricius, I already have this: that the most true path of the planet [Mars] is an ellipse, which Dürer also calls an oval, or certainly so close to an ellipse that the difference is insensible.
Letter to David Fabricius (11 Oct 1605). Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 15, letter 358, l. 390-92, p. 249.
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The earth in its rapid motion round the sun possesses a degree of living force so vast that, if turned into the equivalent of heat, its temperature would be rendered at least one thousand times greater than that of red-hot iron, and the globe on which we tread would in all probability be rendered equal in brightness to the sun itself.
'On Matter, Living Force, and Heat' (1847). In The Scientific Papers of James Prescott Joule (1884), Vol. 1, 271.
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The field cannot be well seen from within the field. The astronomer must have his diameter of the earth's orbit as a base to fix the parallax of any other star
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 427:37.
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There was yet another disadvantage attaching to the whole of Newton’s physical inquiries, ... the want of an appropriate notation for expressing the conditions of a dynamical problem, and the general principles by which its solution must be obtained. By the labours of LaGrange, the motions of a disturbed planet are reduced with all their complication and variety to a purely mathematical question. It then ceases to be a physical problem; the disturbed and disturbing planet are alike vanished: the ideas of time and force are at an end; the very elements of the orbit have disappeared, or only exist as arbitrary characters in a mathematical formula
Address to the Mechanics Institute, 'An Address on the Genius and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton' (1835), excerpted in paper by Luis M. Laita, Luis de Ledesma, Eugenio Roanes-Lozano and Alberto Brunori, 'George Boole, a Forerunner of Symbolic Computation', collected in John A. Campbell and Eugenio Roanes-Lozano (eds.), Artificial Intelligence and Symbolic Computation: International Conference AISC 2000 (2001), 3.
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There's no question in my mind that the capability of [the space shuttle] to put 65,000 pounds in low earth orbit—to put payloads up there cheaper than we've been able to do it before, not having to throw away the booster—will absolutely revolutionize the way we do business here on earth in ways that we just can't imagine. It will help develop science and technology. With the space shuttle—when we get it operational—we'll be able to do in 5 or 10 years what it would take us 20 to 30 years to do otherwise in science and technology development.
Interview for U.S. News & World Report (13 Apr 1981), 56.
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Today every city, town, or village is affected by it. We have entered the Neon Civilization and become a plastic world.. It goes deeper than its visual manifestations, it affects moral matters; we are engaged, as astrophysicists would say, on a decaying orbit.
On the official Raymond Loewry website.
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Using material ferried up by rockets, it would be possible to construct a “space station” in ... orbit. The station could be provided with living quarters, laboratories and everything needed for the comfort of its crew, who would be relieved and provisioned by a regular rocket service. (1945)
In 'Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Coverage?', Wireless World (Oct 1945). Quoted and cited in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 22. Also quoted in 'Hazards of Communication Satellites', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 181, by John R. Pierce Pierce, who then commented, “Clarke thought in terms of manned space stations; today these seem very remote.”
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We have the satisfaction to find, that in nature there is wisdom, system and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that, there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,-no prospect of an end.
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, 1, 304.
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When the movement of the comets is considered and we reflect on the laws of gravity, it will be readily perceived that their approach to Earth might there cause the most woeful events, bring back the deluge, or make it perish in a deluge of fire, shatter it into small dust, or at least turn it from its orbit, drive away its Moon, or, still worse, the Earth itself outside the orbit of Saturn, and inflict upon us a winter several centuries long, which neither men nor animals would be able to bear. The tails even of comets would not be unimportant phenomena, if in taking their departure left them in whole or part in our atmosphere
CosmoIogische Briefe über die Einrichtung des Weltbaues (1761). In Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain (1986), 95.
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When you can dump a load of bricks on a corner lot, and let me watch them arrange themselves into a house — when you can empty a handful of springs and wheels and screws on my desk, and let me see them gather themselves together into a watch — it will be easier for me to believe that all these thousands of worlds could have been created, balanced, and set to moving in their separate orbits, all without any directing intelligence at all.
In 'If A Man Die, Shall He Live again?', More Power To You: Fifty Editorials From Every Week (1917), 218-219.
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Without any doubt, the regularity which astronomy shows us in the movements of the comets takes place in all phenomena. The trajectory of a simple molecule of air or vapour is regulated in a manner as certain as that of the planetary orbits; the only difference between them is that which is contributed by our ignorance. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 3.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton