Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)


By Richard E. Noble

When I first read a small note somewhere about Tycho Brahe, I thought that the author was pulling my leg. No one with such a great legacy in scientific history could have been such an insane lunatic. I was wrong.
Tycho was from the super wealthy, elitist class of his day. He was born a twin, but his brother died at birth. Tycho was then kidnapped by his childless uncle, Joergen Brahe, who was the vice admiral to Frederick II. His parents couldn’t get Tycho back from uncle Joergen because Joergan was too rich and too powerful. At school Tycho showed an interest in mathematics, astronomy and astrology. He got his nose all bent out of shape in an argument with a relative and fellow student about who was the best at mathematics. They had a duel and his cousin slashed off his nose. He had an artificial nose constructed out of a sliver and gold alloy that he wore for the rest of his life.
He got exceedingly interested in star gazing and eventually became the leading observational astronomer of his day and maybe ever. He made detailed lists of the movements of the stars and the planets about the heavens. He disagreed with Aristotle on his sphere’s theory. Aristotle had this notion about fixed and moveable spheres. The area of space beyond the moon was supposedly fixed. Well Brahe had tracked comets and other things, moving in the suggested fixed areas.
He also didn’t like the notions of Copernicus. In Copernicus’ notion he could find no stellar parallax (whatever that is) and Copernicus’ ideas were not in tune with the scriptures. The scriptures said that the earth was the center of the universe. So Tycho re-designed the universe with the earth once again at the center and the sun revolving around it. Copernicus, Tycho and Galileo all agreed on the notion that everything moved in Godly circles. This was one of Pythagoras mystical notions.
Frederick II liked Tycho so much that he gave him a whole island filled with people. Tycho was mean and nasty and ruled the island like a tyrant. He even had a dwarf slave named Jepp who spent most of his time living under Tycho’s dinner table trying to catch some fallen scraps. Tycho ruled over this island paradise until Frederick II croaked and Christian IV took over. Christian wasn’t about to put up with Tycho and his wicked, wicked ways. But Tycho was immediately picked up by the Roman Emperor Rudolph II who game him Benatek Castle near Prague.
It was while at this castle that Brahe contacted Johannes Kepler. Brahe had heard about Kepler and he wanted him as his assistant. They ended up becoming the Laurel and Hardy or the Martin and Louis of astronomical history. It was a good financial opportunity for Kepler but their personalities didn’t jive. Brahe was drunken, abusive and secretive. He didn’t like “sharing” very much. Nevertheless, when he died he left all of his heavenly calculations to Kepler. He died in a rather fitting manner.
One evening he had an important house guest. Brahe was busy over-eating and over-drinking. Brahe, being true to class tradition, refused to leave the table before his guest did. Consequently, he never got to go to the bathroom. This caused him a urinary infection that killed him.
In any case, he left Kepler all of his astronomical records and calculations. Information that Brahe’s family didn’t really want to give up, but finally did. Brahe’s last words with Kepler at his bedside were, supposedly. “Let me not seem to have lived in vain.”