Europes First Astronomical Research Facility Is Built on Hven Island

Word spread to the Danish king Frederick regarding Brahe's achievements in astronomy; however, it seemed Brahe had plans to move to Basle, Germany, and not home to Denmark. As a Danish noble, King Frederick expected Brahe to return to Denmark and serve his own country as a royal astronomer. He offered Brahe a number of different castles, but Brahe refused them, stating that the duties associated with the governing of such castles would interfere with his work in astronomy. King Frederick sent desperate notice that the island of Hven off the Danish coast would be a nicely isolated location on which to build the royal observatory, and he would very much like Brahe to accept this offer to become the first professional astronomer to Denmark. Brahe agreed, and in 1576 he received the island of Hven with the promise to have built for him a grand observatory, an estate in which to live, and the island's villagers and farmers to serve as his subjects.

Brahe hired a German architect to construct an observatory the likes of which had never been seen. He named it Uraniborg after Urania, the goddess of the sky. It was ornately detailed with a great onion dome, a surrounding 250-foot (76.2 m) wall, extensive gardens, a basement for alchemy, a dungeon for miscreants, and a paper mill and printing press. Huge rooms housed his astronomical equipment. From Augsburg he commissioned a brass globe, five feet (1.5 m) in diameter, that sat within the library and received engravings of the stars as his observations described them. He employed a large staff, instruments, and timepieces with which to make as many as four simultaneous measurements of the same

Tycho Brahe's famous underground observatory, Stjerneborg, was destroyed sometime after his death. A replica has been constructed on Hven Island according to Brahe's surviving diagrams. (Photo by Larry Adkins)

object. Uraniborg was an astronomer's dream. It was also the perfect place to invite guests, and Brahe loved parties. He would entertain them with feasts and oddities such as a dwarf soothsayer and a tame moose.

Later, Brahe added a second observatory he called Stjerneborg, or Starry Castle. Except for the domed roofs, the building existed completely underground in order to help protect the observational instruments from the damaging effects of wind and vibration. Brahe devised a clever system of communication for both buildings, a system of bells he could ring to summon servants from any room to his location.

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