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Tycho Brahe


Tycho Brahe
Few other naked-eye astronomers have plotted the movement of planets quite as accurately as Danish nobleman Tycho Brahe. His observations of a new star in 1572 and the Great Comet of 1577 helped to shake off the Aristotelian belief that the planets and stars were unchanging and locked in ‘immutable’ celestial spheres.

Brahe’s schooling began at an early age. Indeed, at just two years old, he was taken from the family home by his uncle to start his education. At age 12, he began studying law at the University of Copenhagen, as was the norm for sons of nobility. However, while the solar eclipse of 1560 cast a dark shadow across the Earth, it lit Brahe’s passion for astronomy, and he emerged himself in the works of the great astronomers of the time.
For some time Brahe studied abroad, but upon his return another uncle – Steen Bille – funded the construction of an observatory and chemical laboratory at Herrevad Abbey. It was here in 1572 that he first noticed the appearance of a very bright star. At the time, the popular theory was that the planets and stars were carried on material spheres (spherical shells) that fitted tightly around each other. Brahe’s observations proved that his sighting was indeed a new star and not a local phenomenon, and therefore this arrangement was impossible.
A year later he published his first book – De Nova Et Nullius Aevi Memoria Prius Visa Stella (On The New And Never Previously Seen Star) – and it was from this that the term ‘nova’ came into common use to describe a new star.
After another tour abroad, King Frederick II, desperate to keep Brahe in Denmark, offered him the island of Heven and funding to set up another observatory. In 1576 Uraniborg was built, and later an underground observatory called Stjerneborg. As well as being observatories, they also functioned as workshops where Brahe designed and built new instruments. He was able to make incredibly accurate observations – they were said to be more accurate than any before.
After King Frederick’s death in 1588, Brahe’s popularity declined. In 1599, after falling out with King Christian IV, Brahe moved to Prague (then part of Bohemia). Sponsored by Bohemian king Rudolph II, he built a new observatory at Ben├ítky nad Jizerou. Here he was responsible for compiling the Rudolphine Tables – astronomical tables that allowed calculations of the planetary positions for any time in the past or future. Here Brahe’s assistant was Johannes Kepler. Brahe entrusted the continuation of his extensive research to Kepler after his death in 1601, who published the finished astronomical tables 26 years later.

Tycho Brahe

Five facts: Tycho Brahe
1 Naked eye
Brahe was the last of the major naked-eye astronomers, as it wasn’t until seven years after his death that the first telescopes came into use.
2 Hard nosed
At the age of 19, Brahe lost the bridge of his nose in a sword fight with a fellow student. For the rest of his life he wore a metal prosthesis to hide the injury.
3 Tycho the tyrant?
It is rumoured that Brahe led an extremely oppressive regime on the island of Haven, and that he was deeply despised by the people under his rule there.
4 Murder mystery
It was suggested that Brahe had been poisoned, but after being exhumed from his grave in 2010, results indicated that he probably died from a burst bladder or something similar.
5Lunar legacy
Craters Tycho on the Moon and Tycho Brahe on Mars are named after Brahe.