Archive for March 11th, 2009

Tycho Brahe: Master of the Universe

Brahe-nose-damagedIn these hard economic times, the first to take a hit are often the most in need. Dreamers, thinkers; these highly-skilled but undervalued members of society never get the money they deserve to pull off those feats of magic we routinely expect from them. I’m talking of course about astronomers.

It wasn’t always this way.

Back when the world was flat and God was King, a Danish astronomer worked in his underground laboratory. Tycho Brahe flaunted his noseless face and died of a urinary infection; he was an astronomer among astronomers, a man among men. He looked through a lens in the mid to late 1500’s to see what few other men saw. He made his own conclusions, he advanced scientific knowledge, he fought and he swore. Let us sing the praises of Tycho Brahe, astronomer extraordinaire.

Tycho Brahe was a metal-nosed star gazer. He lost a piece of his nose in a rapier fight. Instead of the more traditional wax nose, Brahe brazenly drew attention to it by installing an alloy of gold and silver (and probably copper). This gave him an air of superiority whenever he had to look down his nose at lesser astronomers.

Not to let his nose outshine his other eccentricities, Brahe owned a pet moose while he worked as Danish Royal Astronomer. Sadly the moose’s life was cut short when it ingested too much beer, fell down a staircase, and broke a leg. A metal leg for the poor beast was unfortunately not an option, and it died.Uraniborg_garden

The Danish King gave Brahe an island where he could study the stars in peace. Now, history has shown that no good comes when men are given islands. Dr. Moreau, John Hammond, Rupert Murdoch: men make bigger mistakes when they rule a lonely island. Brahe took his island and had a castle built upon it and named it Uraniborg, after his mother, Borg.

Brahe loved the stars, but he loved women and fighting even more. When his good eye was not glued to the end of a telescope, it was leering at the prettiest Dane, Kirsten Jörgensdatter. Kirsten could not deny the metal-nosed rebel astronomer for long, and she became his child bride. She was 80 years younger than Brahe when they married. Fortunately she aged faster than Brahe and by the time of his death they were only twelve seconds apart.Stjanrborg_400

Brahe’s goal was to purify astronomy and raise it to perfection. Astronomers of his day were often synonymous with soothsayers and moose doctors. The public perception of a man who spent his nights peeking into the cosmos was wary at best. Brahe insured his name would be inscribed in the history books by taking copious data which would later be used by his protege, Johannes Kepler, to figure out the three laws of planetary motion. Kepler’s laws have since been broadened not only for our solar system, but for all heavenly bodies that orbit other bodies.

Brahe also discovered that comets did not exist in our atmosphere but in space. This angered the Comet God, who pelted Brahe with tiny comets for the rest of his days. Many a visitor to Uraniborg noted that it appeared to be hailing all the time, even indoors.tycho+supernova+remnant

After his run-in with the Comet God, Brahe trod lightly upon matters of the Church. When he discovered stellar parallax, a phenomenon that proved the universe was larger than a dome containing the sun and a few planets, Brahe kept his mouth shut. It was one of the few times he did so.

His twenty-year tenure as Royal Astronomer ended when he was fired by the King of Denmark. His temper was the culprit, and although Brahe fought hard against losing his temper ever again, that fight was a losing battle. He and Kirsten moved to Prague, where they could keep drinking and swearing without fear of job loss.

In 1600 Brahe employed Johannes Kepler. They became fast friends. Kepler was the Robin to Brahe’s Two-Face. In fact, Kepler was by Brahe’s bed when he died, even recording his last words: “May I not seemed to have lived in vain.”

It is commonly thought that Brahe died of a bladder infection, but new evidence indicates he was poisoned by mercury. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Brahe sat too long at a royal dinner when really he should have used the bathroom. Not to be seen as improper, the metal-nosed rebel astronomer sat in agony through an eight course meal as his bladder screamed in protest. The nobleman whose house Brahe was visiting insisted on recounting his “waterfall and white water rapids” story, complete with gushing, rushing sound effects. Brahe could have keeled over right at the table, but years of propriety forced him to sit still. If a bladder infection was not the culprit of Brahe’s premature death, then certainly manners were a leading cause.

Brahe was 54 when he died, in 1601. His name, his fake nose, and his inventive use of foul language will live on. The stars will never be the same now that they have been studied by Tycho Brahe.tychotomb