Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was born in Skåne, Denmark (now Sweden). Though born into high nobility and prepared by his family for a career at court, he shunned political life in favour of astronomy.

He studied for three years at the University of Copenhagen, then from 1562 spent around 14 years travelling in Germany and working with scholars from a variety of universities. In Rostock, in 1566, he lost part of his nose in a duel and wore a prosthesis for the rest of his life.

In 1572 a new star appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia (now known to have been a supernova). Tycho observed this star for many months, calculating it was more distant than the Moon. These findings, published in De nova stella in 1573, seemed to undermine the Aristotelian philosophy of an Earth-centred universe. Tycho himself believed that the Copernican system, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, provided a far better mathematical model but did not reflect physical reality.

Supported by King Frederick II, Tycho established an observatory called Uraniborg on the island of Ven in the Øresund strait in 1576. The observatory was equipped with a range of large and accurate instruments that allowed precise observations in a time before the invention of the telescope. Tycho’s observations of the comet of 1577 proved that it was further away from Earth than Venus and moved around the Sun.

Tycho made over 20 years of observations from Uraniborg. In 1599 he left Denmark and set up an observatory at Benátky Castle, near Prague in Bohemia (now Czech Republic). In February 1600 he was joined by a young assistant called Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who would go on to develop his master’s observations into laws of planetary motion. Tycho died less than two years later in Prague.