Lunar Eclipse Shifts His Educational Goal toward Astronomy

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When Tycho was seven years old, he began his schooling at a clerical school near Vordingborg, where he received his elementary education and learned the Latin language, both spoken and written. In 1559, at age 13, Tycho began classical studies at the University of Copenhagen, and, although he focused on law, the university offered education in astronomy and the mathematics that accompany its study. This is where Brahe became deeply involved in the subject. It was within the first year at Copenhagen that he discovered through one of his professors a basic pre-Copernican astronomy book by English mathematician and astronomer Johannes de Sacrobosco (d. ca. 1256) titled De sphaera (On the spheres, ca. 1230). Then, on August 21, 1560, Brahe experienced a life-altering event by witnessing a partial eclipse of the Sun. It was not the phenomenon of the eclipse itself, however, that fascinated him. It was the fact that its occurrence had been predicted beforehand. To Brahe, this was amazing! That people could predict the movements of the planets was a feat of mathematical genius that he wanted to be able to carry out for himself.

Brahe had the benefit of family wealth and thus had the resources to supply himself with the tools required to follow his heart. He never advertised his passion for astronomy to members of his household, for he suspected that they would disapprove. Cautiously, he began purchasing his own copies of more advanced astronomy books. He also acquired an ephemeris of planetary motions, which is a table that gives the positions of the stars and planets over a time period. Privately, he set about learning all that he could about astronomy.

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