Immanuel Kant

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Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant is best known for his ideas about philosophy, from ethics to the nature of knowledge. But he also played a role in the development of an idea about how planets are born. And while many of the details were off, his basic idea was sound.

Kant was born 300 years ago this week, in the German state of Konigsberg. And during his 80 years, he never left it.

He enrolled in the University of Konigsberg at age 16. But his father died, and he was forced to leave the university. He became a tutor for well-to-do families. He was able to return and finish his education in 1755.

Kant was interested in just about everything — including science. Soon after completing his degree, he wrote about earthquakes, the weather, and more. One of his early works was “Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens.” In it, he described a “nebular” hypothesis for the formation of planets.

A scientist in Sweden had conceived the idea a couple of decades earlier. Kant developed it further. He wrote that the Sun and planets were born from a nebula — a giant spinning cloud of gas and particles. Gravity caused the cloud to flatten, forming a disk. Material in the disk stuck together to make larger and larger chunks — eventually forming planets.

Today, scientists have worked out more of the details. But the basic idea remains the same — Kant’s hypothesis provides a basic description of how planets are born.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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