Brahes Legacy

During his years at Uraniborg, Brahe accomplished a great amount of work. He established entirely new methods for celestial observation and compiled a star catalog. He designed and constructed a wide range of astronomical instruments with which to record his measurements, some that were accurate to within four minutes of an arc (1/15 of a degree), and he was the first to compensate for atmospheric refraction. His logs and publications (many printed on his own press) would become the stepping-stones for future astronomers.

As the years passed, Brahe grew increasingly arrogant and ill tempered. He commonly locked his servants in chains and made unreasonable demands on his island subjects. His manner was gruff and his attitude unbearable. Once the pride of Denmark, Brahe was now despised by many Danes. After his friend King Frederick died of alcohol poisoning in 1588, the new king, Christian IV, began to send letters to Brahe addressing his ill-treatment of his subjects, letters that Brahe left unanswered. King Christian responded to

Brahe's egotism by limiting his income until finally, in 1597, Brahe left Uraniborg.

Unwelcome in Denmark, he and his entourage of family, servants, instruments, and manuscripts took to traveling. In 1598, in Wandsburg, Germany, Tycho published a book he had started at Uraniborg titled Astronomiae instauratae mechanica (The new astronomy's instrumentology) containing his autobiography and descriptions and pictures of his instruments and buildings on Hven. Finally, in 1599, Brahe moved to Prague to take the seat as chief mathematician and astronomer to Emperor Rudolph II, who loved anything to do with astrology, mysticism, and the secrets of the universe. The emperor offered Brahe a castle and an income of such worth it caused unrest with the nobles who had served the court for years and did not make nearly as much as this new Danish "fortune-teller," a name often used to refer to astrologers.

Eventually settling within the city, in 1600 Brahe hired a skilled assistant, young Johannes Kepler, to help him with the emperor's commission: compiling a new set of astronomical tables based on Brahe's nearly 40 years of observational data. Although the two of them disagreed on the mechanics of the solar system (Kepler was a devout believer in the new Copernican system, whereas Brahe was not), they otherwise related well enough to work together, even though Brahe kept many of his observational methods and data secret from Kepler.

The next year, 1601, was Brahe's last. While he attended a dinner at the estate of his friend Peter Vok Ursinus Rozmberk, it is said that, adhering to court etiquette, Brahe refrained from leaving the table before his host even while he was suffering from an overfull bladder. This caused him great physical distress. After he returned home that evening, matters became worse and he could only pass urine a little at a time and under terrible pain. Eleven days later, on October 24, 1601, he died in excruciating pain.

In 1602, Kepler finished and published Brahe's Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata (Introduction to the new astronomy). This book established the observational and theoretical techniques that launched a new era of modern astronomy.

Brahe's precise cause of death was never determined, yet many assumed that Brahe died from complications resulting from the holding of his urine. In 1991, however, the director of the Czech National Museum gave the Danish government a box containing a bit of shroud and some remnants of beard belonging to Brahe, which had been taken from the tomb during the 1901 exhumation. Analysis of the beard hairs showed an unusually high concentration of mercury. Some poisonings from heavy metals match uremia-like symptoms (urine in the blood), which describes the death of Brahe. With this new evidence, some experts today believe Brahe died from mercury poisoning.

Brahe's tomb resides at the Tyn church in Prague, yet his fantastic instruments are lost to the ages. Uraniborg and Stjerneborg have long been destroyed, but the work that took place there endures. Brahe's lifetime of recorded observations passed to Johannes Kepler and greatly assisted in his formulation of his three laws of planetary motion.

Brahe's accomplishments played a highly significant role in the development of modern astronomy and the way humans view the world and the universe. He created a remarkably accurate star catalog of approximately 1,000 stars, proved that comets were not objects in the atmosphere but instead existed beyond the Moon, and made overall improvements on the known methods of observation.

CHRONOLOGY

1546

Born as Tyge Brahe on December 14 in Skane, Denmark (now Sweden)

1548

Goes to live with his uncle Jorgen Brahe

1559

Enters the University of Copenhagen to study philosophy and law

1560

Witnesses a partial eclipse of the Sun and becomes interested in astronomy

1562

Enters the University of Leipzig, Germany

1563

Begins his first observational log

1565 Leaves Leipzig for Denmark. Jorgen Brahe dies of pneumonia.

1566

Travels to Rostok, Germany, to attend the university; loses part of his nose in a duel with another student

1570

Finishes construction on his famous Great Quadrant

1571

Returns to Denmark and meets his future life partner, Kirsten Jorgensdatter. His father, Otte, dies in May.

1572

Discovers a new star, a supernova, within the constellation Cassiopeia

1573

Publishes his famous book De nove stella (The new star)

1576

Is presented with Hven Island by King Frederick II; the castle observatory Uraniborg is built

1577

Observes and records the path of a comet and proves it existed beyond the Moon

1588

Publishes De mundi aetherei recentioribus phoenomenis liber secundus (About recently viewed phenomena in the ether sphere). King Frederick II dies of alcohol poisoning.

1597

Funding is cut off by King Christian IV, forcing him to depart from Uraniborg forever

1598

Publishes Astronomiae instauratae mechanica (The new astronomy's instrumentology)

1599

Becomes chief astronomer to Emperor Rudolph II of Prague

1600

Hires Johannes Kepler as an assistant

1601

Dies on October 24 of what is now thought to be mercury poisoning

1602 Johannes Kepler finishes and then publishes Brahe's Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata (Introduction to the new astronomy)

FURTHER READING Books

Boerst, William J. Tycho Brahe: Mapping the Heavens (Great Scientists). Greensboro, N.C.: Morgan Reynolds, 2002. From

Boerst's Great Scientists collection, a study designed for students in grades 6-12 on the life of Tycho Brahe and his accomplishments in science.

Christianson, John R. On Brahe's Island: Tycho Brahe and His Assistants, 1570-1601. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A vivid portrayal of life at Uraniborg and the people who contributed to Europe's first scientific research center.

Dreyer, J. L. E. Tycho Brahe: A Picture of Scientific Life and Work in the Sixteenth Century. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1890. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1963. A systematic, well-done study on Tycho Brahe and his work.

Gow, Mary. Tycho Brahe: Astronomer (Great Minds of Science). Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 2002. Tailored toward readers in grades 6-10, the book illustrates Brahe's life in easy-to-follow language.

Thoren, Victor E. The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. This is an engaging, concise biography of Tycho Brahe that explores every aspect of his life and his life's work.

Web Sites

Tycho Brahe Homepage. Available online. URL: http://www.nada. kth.se/~fred/tycho. Accessed November 29, 2004. A Web site dedicated to Tycho Brahe and his accomplishments in astronomy. Includes portraits, a biography, and links to other sites.

Runeberg, John. "Tycho Brahe's Castle Uraniborg and His Observatory Stjärneborg." Available online. URL: http://www. hven.net/EUBORG.html. Accessed November 29, 2004. Johan Runeberg hosts this Web site that offers detailed information and drawings of Tycho Brahe's Uraniborg Castle and his underground observatory, Stjärneborg. Also offers links to more Tycho Brahe and Hven Island information.

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