Tycho Brahe – The Man with the Golden Nose

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

On December 14, 1546, Danish nobleman and astronomer Tycho Brahe, known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations was born.

Tycho Brahe was born into a politically powerful family of noblemen and political advisors. He grew up with his uncle, also a nobleman, who supplied his nephew with a proper education at a Latin school. Tycho began attending university at the age of 12, in favor of his uncle he studied law but gradually increased his interest in astronomy. Still in university, Tycho Brahe began performing his first observations and soon noticed the need of more accuracy and better schemes. To improve accuracy, the hobby astronomer began to upgrade many instruments and even built his own, but it is to note, that he performed all observations without a telescope, which first appeared in the mid 1600’s.

Despite his achievements in astronomy, Tycho Brahe was also very well known for his ‘golden nose’. During a duell in the dark with Manderup Parsberg, he lost parts of his nose and rumors spread that he had used a prosthesis made of gold or sometimes silver. Later observations on the astronomer assumed that he was wearing a nose made of copper instead, and the most recent research results suggest that is was rather made out of brass.

Also mystical is the the death of Tycho Brahe in the year 1601. For a long time it was cause of controversies, because the one side of historians argues that he had suffered from a bladder or kidney ailment after attending a court banquet in Prague while the other sides assumes that he might have been poisoned with quicksilver.

But, coming back to the astronomer Tycho Brahe, his critical contributions are to be mentioned. In 1572, he discovered a supernova, which was the final argument for his choice of profession. The observation was even a major inspiration for the poem ‘Al Aaraaf  by Edgar Allan Poe. Also, Tycho built an observatory in 1576, which he was able to develop into a whole research center for nearly 100 students and scientists. Another observatory was built by Tycho Brahe near Prague, where he performed numerous experiments and observations for many noblemen, including weather forecasting or interpreting major astronomical events.

Due to his enormous accuracy, Tycho and his observational data were a gret influence to later astronomers, including the great Johannes Kepler. Tycho’s records were critically for his work on the heliocentric model of the solar system. However, Tycho developed his own system. In it, the Moon and the Sun would revolve around the Earth while Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn revolved around the Sun. This system is also called the geo-heliocentric system and depicted a contrast to the system by Copernicus. It was also less disliked by the church and many fellow astronomers.

Even though Tycho Brahe may have erred in some matters, he is to be seen as one of the most important astronomers of the scientific revolution, setting new standards for accuracy and new measuring methods.

At yovisto, you may enjoy Ian Morison’s lecture on “Tycho Brahe’s Life and Death” at Gresham College.

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