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Tycho Brahe

Tycho Brahe Photo

Tycho Brahe (Tyge Ottesen Brahe) was a Danish astronomer born in 1546 in Knudstrup, Scania, Denmark known for his accurate observations of celestial bodies. Brahe was born in a noble family where his father Otte Brahe was a royal privy councilor and his mother Beate Bille was a Danish royal woman and a member of the royal court. Brahe was the heir to several of Denmark’s noble families and was raised by his wealthy uncle Jørgen Thygesen Brahe at his castle in Tostrup, Scania. From about the age of six, Brahe attended a Latin school upon the wishes of his uncle who wanted Brahe to pursue studies in law. At age 13, Brahe enrolled at University of Copenhagen to study law between 1559 and 1562. Brahe studied a number of subjects while at university but grew the most fascinated with astronomy.

What sealed his fascination with astronomy was the prediction of a total eclipse of the sun in 1560. To young Brahe, the idea of men being able to predict an eclipse based on the movements of the sun, the moon the stars and the planets speared quite amusing. From there on, Brahe divided his timing between studying both law and astronomy.

Upon graduation in 1562, Brahe’s uncle enrolled him at University of Leipzig, Germany to further Brahe’s education in law. In 1563, Brahe recorded his first astronomical observation when he found that the planetary positions of Jupiter and Saturn had been miscalculated so as to create an overlap. Brahe found that many existing almanacs, the Alfonsine tables, the Copernicus tables and many other astronomical tables showed discrepancies in the positioning of planets and hence devoted his next few years to observing the planets up close and resolving those discrepancies.

In 1566, Brahe enrolled at the University of Rostock, Germany to study medicine with additional subjects in alchemy and botany. Brahe was firm on becoming a scientist and upon returning to Denmark in 1567 established an observatory and alchemical laboratory at Herrevad Abbey, Denmark with the help of his uncle, Steen Bille. On 11 November 1572, Brahe spotted a bright star, brighter than Venus, in the constellation Cassiopeia. Brahe discovered that the start lied beyond the Moon, where the position of the stars was fixed. The revelation that a new start existed in the realm of an unchanging, fixed order was an idea quite indigestible to the world at the time. The intellectual community of the time firmly relied on the Aristotelian concept of worldly certainty derived from the unchanging nature and positions of the stars. Brahe’s observations challenged that notion of certainty and their confidence in the universal layout. Brahe published his observations in De nova Stella in 1573 and was hailed as an astronomer worthy of regard.

Brahe furthered his quest on astronomy and decided to construct a bigger, better observatory with bigger instruments for better observations. Brahe’s initial plans were to establish one in Germany, but the king of Denmark, Fredrick II, foreseeing great potential in Brahe and his plans, granted him an estate on the island of Hven and the funding to build an observatory which Brahe named Uraniborg. Beginning in 1600, Brahe acquired an assistant in the form of Johannes Kepler who assisted him until his death and then went on to use his data to establish further empirical truths pertaining to the universe. Upon Fredrick’s death in 1588, Tycho’s support and funds received from the kingdom declined. After several long arguments and disputes, Brahe left Hven and settled in Prague in 1599. Brahe attempted to carry on his work in Prague but to little effect. Brahe’s greatest achievements were made while at Uraniborg, the greatest of which were proof that the nova was a star in 1571 and the orbit of the comet of 1577 lay beyond the Moon.

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