A Brief Biography of Tycho Brahe

By Tim Lambert

His Early Life

Tycho Brahe was one of the great astronomers of the 16th century. He lived before the telescope was invented yet he made very accurate observations of the positions of stars.

Tycho Brahe was born on Knudstrup on 14 December 1546. (It was then part of n but it is now part of Sweden). Tycho was from an upper-class family but he was brought up by his uncle, not his natural parents. Tycho first studied at a Latin school.

Then in 1559 when he was only 12 years old Tycho was sent to the University of Copenhagen. He then studied law at the university until 1562. However, Tycho soon became interested in astronomy. On 21 August 1560, he saw a total eclipse of the Sun. Afterward, Tycho fell in love with astronomy and began studying the stars.

In 1562 Tycho went to Leipzig University where he remained until 1565. However, in 1563 Tycho observed a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. At that time he realized that existing tables predicting the movement of the stars and planets were inaccurate. Afterward, Tycho was determined to produce accurate tables.

From 1565 to 1570 Tycho Brahe traveled around Europe and he obtained astronomical instruments. Meanwhile, in 1566 he fought a duel with swords, and part of his nose was cut off. Afterward, Tycho wore an artificial metal nose.

The Observatory

In 1571 Tycho built an observatory in the southern tip of Sweden. Then on 11 November 1572, an event happened that changed his life. He observed a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia. In the early 16th century educated people believed that the Heavens (beyond the Moon) were eternal and unchanging. The idea that a new star could appear was very unsettling.

Tycho proved that the new star was not an atmospheric phenomenon. It was beyond the Moon. He published his conclusions in a book called De Nova Stella (Of a New Star). This work made Tycho Brahe famous.

Meanwhile, in 1563, Tycho married a peasant woman named Kirstine. It was most unusual for a nobleman to marry a commoner but they had 8 children. (Two of the children died young).

In 1576 King Frederick II gave Tycho the island of Hven near Copenhagen and Tycho built an observatory there. (He called the observatory Uraniborg, which means castle of the Heavens). In the following years, Tycho continued to make accurate observations of the stars.

In 1577 Tycho observed a comet and he was able to prove it was further away than the Moon. The Greek philosopher Aristotle thought comets were atmospheric phenomena but Tycho showed this is not so.

However, Tycho was not correct about everything. At the beginning of the 16th century, people believed that the Sun, Moon, and planets orbited the Earth. In 1543 Copernicus said that the Earth and planets orbit the Sun. In 1588 Tycho proposed an alternative system. He said that the other planets do orbit the Sun but the Sun, in turn, orbits the Earth.

Tycho Brahe

Tycho left Hven in 1597 and in 1599 he moved to Prague. Tycho Brahe died in Prague on 24 October 1601. He was only 54.