One of the most important and fascinating fields of study in the world is astronomy. The field mainly deals with the study of celestial and heavenly bodies outside planet Earth and has given people a better view of the galaxy and beyond. Most of all, it has enabled humans to have a deeper understanding of the nearby heavenly bodies such as the moon, the sun, and neighboring planets and has also provided them with a glimpse of multiply possibilities of the universe. In addition, the field of astronomy has also given rise to various scientists such as Galileo Galilei and Nicholas Copernicus, among many others, who have significantly contributed to the field.
At present, celestial and heavenly bodies are usually studied from the Earth with the use of high-powered and sophisticated telescopes. However, one person who greatly contributed to the field of astronomy even before telescopes were widely used was Tycho Brahe. Arguably, Tycho Brahe is one of the most significant and well-known figures in astronomy as he revolutionized the field with his unparalleled precision and accuracy in the observations of planets and stars. He also influenced other great scientists such as Johannes Kepler, who used Tycho’s astronomical data to formulate his own theories and ideas on astronomy (New World Encyclopedia.com). In this regard, this paper will discuss the life of Tycho Brahe and his significant contributions to the field of astronomy. The paper will also highlight the important discoveries and ideas made by Tycho and how it paved the way for future astronomical ideas. Moreover, it will expound on the accuracy of his observation of heavenly bodies, which he made before the invention of the telescope, among others.
Early Life & Education
Tycho Brahe was born December 14 1546 and is the son of Helsingborg Castel’s governor, Ottto Brahe and Beatle Billie (Answers.com), who are both from noble families of Danish descent. He has a twin brother, who died shortly after birth (University of St. Andrews.com). Like other famous scientists such as Galileo, he is often called and well-known by his first name.
In one of his writings, Tycho stated that his uncle, Jorge Brahe, a Danish nobleman, took him away when he was only two years old. Up to this day, this piece of information has yet to be verified but according to most sources this is very true because it was Jorge who funded Tycho’s education. He also lived with his uncle in Tolstup Castle and in 1552 at the age of six, he was given command of Castle Vordingborg, to which he, along with Jorge and his aunt, moved to begin his education. It is also not known where he was educated during childhood but multiple sources claim that he was enrolled in a Latin school from six years old to twelve years old (Answers.com).
It was in April 1559 when Tycho first studied astronomy at the University of Copenhagen (New World Encyclopedia.com). Following the wish of his uncle, he also studied law but it was eclipse in August of 1560 which further enthralled him to expound his studies of astronomy. Basically, Tycho was impressed that the said eclipse was predicted and with the help of some of his professors, studied astronomy on his own. He also bought books on astronomy, particularly the works of Ptolemy, who is also another major contributor in the field (New World Encylopedia.com).
Tycho was then sent by his uncle Jorge to complete his education, along with a tutor, at the University of Leipzig, where he was expected to focus on a career in law. However, he refused to study law and decided that astronomy was the only field he wants to pursue. It was also during this time when Tycho began creating hand-made instruments that would allow him to observe the heavenly bodies more accurately.
Aside from charting the stars, the moon, the sun and other celestial bodies without the aid of a telescope, Tycho is also well-known for his deformed nose. Following his uncle Jorge’s death in 1865, he returned home to claim his inheritance. However, his current career in astronomy was not well-received by his relatives and this caused him to go on journey across Europe, particularly to expand his knowledge on his field of study.
When Tycho stayed at the University of Rostock, Germany in Christmas of 1566, he Manderup Parsbjerg, who is also his fellow Danish nobleman. After getting slightly drunk, he had an argument with Parsbjerg reportedly over the subject of geometry, which eventually resulted in a rapier duel between the two. The fight led to the loss of the bridge of Tycho’s nose (New World Encyclopedia.com). However, the injury also aroused his interest in alchemy and medicine. Moreover, in order he replaced the lost bridge of his nose with an object which is composed of silver and gold and turned into flesh color. But it was later discovered that this object was actually copper and neither gold nor silver.
Subsequently, Tycho helped built a large observatory in Augsburg, which will help pinpoint the position of the stars. He also embarked on a farther journey in which he saw various observatories in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, among others (Answers.com). He returned home Knudstrup, where his father, who was very ill, died in May 1571. There, together with the help of another Uncle, Steen Billie, he built an alchemical laboratory and observatory at Herrevad Abbey (Answers.com).
Another notable event in Tycho’s life is his marriage to Kirsten Jorgensdatter in 1572, also in Knudstrup. The two had eight children and lived for more or less 30 years together. However, following the laws during that time, his children could not inherit his land property or his name since Kirsten was a commoner and not of noble descent or from a high-ranking family.
Furthermore, one of Tycho’s major works was the construction of Uraniborg, an observatory in Denmark. The facility was constructed with the help of King Frederick II, who was amazed by the popularity of Tycho and his astronomical theories and pursuits. It also contained apartments to receive dignitaries from all over the world, including King James VI of Scotland, who stayed at the observatory for eight days.
Basically, Tycho’s period of stay in the Uraniborg lasted 21 years (New World Encyclopedia.com). It was during this period that he made highly significant observations of the moon and planet Mars. He also found out certain discrepancies and irregular facts and details about of the motion of the Moon, which was later used by other scientists and astronomers in studying the heavenly body.
However, following Kind Frederick’s death and the ascension of his son, Christian IV, to the throne, Tycho lost the support for the Uraniborg, particularly due to the monarchy’s new head and due to the jealousy over the worldwide attention being received by the observatory (Answers.com). Moreover, Tycho’s personality and his cynicism and irony did not bode well to his supporters, which further aggravated his situation. As a result, the financial stipend being given to him was ceased and the lands that Uraniborg occupy were taken from him, forcing him to continue his research elsewhere.
Tycho found this new location in Prague, where he was well-received by Emperor Rudolph II in 1599 (New World Encyclopedia.com). The Emperor also built him an observatory where he continued his studies on planetary positions. He also received substantial funding for his research which enabled him to hire people to assist him in his work. Among those he invited to join is Johannes Keppler, who would eventually use Tycho’s ideas to formulate his own theories on astronomy.
Contributions & Ideas
As mentioned above, Tycho is most famous for his accurate measurements of planets and star even without the use of the telescope. One notable example of his precision was his measurement of the Earth’s axis, which he said was more accurate that the widely-used Copernican system. He was also the first one to precisely correct atmospheric refractions using repeated calibrations.
For example, past astronomers’ observations about the moon and other planets were accurate by more or less 15 arc minutes. On the other hand, Tycho’s observations were precise by about 2 minutes. Over-all, it is widely-believed that most of his notable observations were accurate by about half a minute (The Galileo Project.com), which is far beyond the observations of other scientists who also did not use a telescope.
Aside from his accuracy and precision, Tycho also challenged and entirely changed old ideas and philosophies about the heavenly bodies and celestial bodies outside the Earth. One of the ideas that he challenged is ancient and wide-accepted theory of Aristotle that heavenly bodies were immutable or cannot be changed and therefore, had permanent characteristics. Tycho, in November 11, 1572 (The Galileo Projet.com) noticed the sudden appearance of a very bright star in the Cassiopeia constellation. He then surmised that the star’s appearance was unmistakably a phenomenon in the atmosphere of the Earth.
However, he also observed that the position of the said star did not change every night, which indicates that the object is extremely far and bigger than the Earth’s diameter. He claimed that any nearby object, with respect to the background, should change its position (The Galileo Project.com) much like sun and the moon changing positions as day and night passes. Furthermore, he noted the color, brightness, and various changes in the star’s appearance and published his findings in a book. Later on, it was discovered that the star he discovered was a supernova or an exploding star.
Most of all, Tycho devised the Tychonic system, which was geocentric model that would account for the motions of the planets and heavenly bodies in the Solar System. According to his model, the moon and the sun orbited the Earth, which remains stationary. On the other hand, the other planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter orbited around the Sun (The Galileo Project.com). Furthermore, the model places the Earth in center of the universe.
Although this Tycho’s model contrary to the widely-accepted Copernican theory, which states that all the planets revolve around the sun, which, in turn, is near the center of the universe, it provided that provided another alternative for those who did not accept the earlier Ptolemaic theory. It is also an alternate theory for those who reject the Copernican theory as Tycho’s model is essentially a combination of the two earlier theories (The Galileo Projet.com). However, at present, the Tychonic system is obviously outdated because it is a well-known fact that the Earth moves around the sun in an orbit and is not the center of the universe.
Furthermore, Tycho also published various works and books. These include De Nova et Nullius Aevi Memoria Prius Visa Stella (“On the New and Never Previously Seen Star), De Mundi Aetherei Recentioribus Phaenomenis (“Concerning the New Phenomena in the Ethereal World). Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica (“Instruments for the Restored Astronomy”) and Astronomiae Instauratae Progymnasmata (“Introductory Exercises Toward a Restored Astronomy”) (The Galileoproject.com). However, it is notable that most of these works were not published when he was still alive.
It was Johannes Keppler, his assistant in the Prague observatory, who compiled all his observations but was published by Tycho’s family. He also used most of the data that Tycho gathered during his years of study. For example, Tycho’s data on Mars was used by Keppler to formulate his planetary laws of motion (Answers.com).
Death & Legacy
During the last years of his life, it is notable that Tycho’s health was deteriorating very badly. His condition worsened when he suffered urine retention during a visit to a nobleman. This significantly weakened his body even after the symptoms had already passed. He died on October 24, 1601 after giving instructions to his family (New World Encyclopedia.com).
However, there were various speculations surrounding his death. Initially, many thought he died because of a strained bladder. It was believed that he could not leave a certain banquet which he attended as this was considered bad manners. As a result, he was forced to stretch his bladder to the limit, which subsequently caused an infection (New World Encyclopedia.com). But more recent investigations have shown that Tycho may have been poisoned himself using mercury, which were found in highly toxic levels on his hair and its roots. It was also theorized that Keppler could have poisoned Tycho as he had the motive and reason to do so (New World Encyclopedia.com). The last theory about Tycho’s death was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Over-all, Tyco Brahe revolutionized the world of astronomy by formulating innovative theories and developing more accurate and more precise strategies in observing celestial bodies. He also provided the framework and the foundation for other scientists and researchers who used his ideas to develop their own groundbreaking theories. Most of all, he proved that the can significantly contribute to the field of astronomy without the use of sophisticated instruments such as the telescope.
“Brahe, Tycho.” 2008. New World Encyclopedia.com 25 March 2009 <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Tycho_Brahe>.
“Tycho Brahe (1546-1601).” 2008. The Galileo Project.com. 25 March 2009 <http://galileo.rice.edu/sci/brahe.html>.
“Tycho Brahe.” 2003. University of St. Andrews, Scotland. 25 March 2009 <http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Brahe.html>.
“Tycho Brahe.” 2009. Answers.com. 25 March 2009 <http://www.answers.com/topic/tycho-brahe>.