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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Tycho Brahe

Tycho Brahe was born at his family's ancestral seat of Knutstorp Castle, about five miles (eight kilometres) north of Svalöv in then Danish Scania on December 14, 1546.

Tycho's father, Otte, was a nobleman and an important figure at the court of the Danish king. When he was around age two, his uncle, Danish nobleman Jørgen Thygesen Brahe, without the knowledge of his parents took him away with him to become a scholar.

Tycho began studies at the University of Copenhagen at the age of 12. There, following his uncle's wishes, he studied law, but also studied a variety of other subjects and became interested in astronomy. The solar eclipse of 21 August 1560, especially the fact that it had been predicted, so impressed him that he began to make his own studies of astronomy, helped by some of the professors.

While studying at University of Rostock in Germany, Brahe attended a dance at a professor's house. He found hinself involved in a sword duel in pitch darkness with a fellow student, Manderup Parsbjerg over an astronomical argument. Tycho’s face was slashed and he lost the bridge of his nose. As a consequence, he had to wear a false nose made out of silver and copper.

Tycho Brahe became a world-famous astronomer when on the night of November 11, 1572 he recorded a new star "brighter than Venus" located in the constellation Cassiopeia. He called others to witness it and gave it the name "Stella Nova", the new star.

Brahe was granted an estate by Frederick II of Denmark on the island of Ven and the funding to build the Uraniborg, the first custom-built observatory in modern Europe. The cornerstone was laid on August 8, 1576 and the building completed in 1580 (with a laboratory for his alchemical experiments in its cellar), Using large astronomical instruments, Brahe took many careful measurements. Later the observatory was expanded with an underground facility, Stjerneborg, when he discovered that his instruments in the the Uraniborg site were not sufficiently steady.

Tycho Brahe's Uraniborg main building from the 1663 Blaeu's Atlas Major

His observatory and alchemical laboratory consumed over 1 per cent of Denmark’s GNP in the 1580s.

Brahe's laboratory was famous for its wild parties. His pet elk died after falling downstairs while drunk.

Brahe was the greatest observer in the days before telescopes, making the most accurate measurements of the positions of stars and planets. His accurate observations of the planets enabled German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler to prove that planets orbit the Sun in ellipses.

Brahe's discovery and report of the 1572 supernova brought him recognition, and his observations of the comet of 1577 proved that it moved in an orbit among the planets, thus disproving Aristotle's view that comets were in the Earth's atmosphere.

1586 portrait of Tycho Brahe framed by the family shields of his noble ancestors

Brahe moved to Prague as imperial mathematician in 1599, where he was joined by his then assistant Kepler, who inherited his observations when he died.

He suddenly contracted a bladder or kidney ailment after attending a banquet in Prague, and died eleven days later, on October 24, 1601. According to Kepler's first hand account, Brahe had refused to leave the banquet to relieve himself because it would have been a breach of etiquette.

Brahe inspired the phrase "a Tycho Brahe day" in his native language. It denotes bad luck, but it's not clear why.

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