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Tycho Brahe: The Mad Astronomer

Human mind is the most powerful weapon in the whole of the universe and the beings that have wielded it to the maximum potential to bring great scientific results and advancements have often been crazy or maddening.

Any scientist or an inventing mind would have an anomaly in their behavior, making them more adorable. But these unusual eccentricities are painful and they have stood through their sufferings to become one of the greatest minds in human history.

 This article will give the name of such a scientist who had lived a weird life yet made some brilliant contributions to the field of astronomy.

Hardly has he been remembered as one of the greatest astronomers, but his findings became the pillars of modern astronomy. He was one of the earliest to deny the Aristotelian concept of a static unchanging universe. 

Tycho Brahe is the guy who led to two of the most inspiring works; in the field of literature and astronomy, namely The Hamlet and the three laws of planetary motion by Johannes Kepler, respectively.

He is the mentor of Kepler who used Brahe’s huge data of astronomical observations to take the science of planets and heavenly bodies to the next level. Indeed, Brahe asked Kepler to do so in his deathbed and not to use the observations of Copernicus.   

When he was a child, his uncle took him away from his parents stealthily, which he says in his own words, ‘without the knowledge of my parents took me away with him while I was in my earliest youth to become a scholar’. He had no regrets towards his uncle for doing this. 

 At the age of 14, he got interested in astronomy with the occurrence of solar eclipse on 21st August, 1960 and then he decided that the complications of astronomy can be resolved only through systematic, accurate detailed observation every night.

As a student he fought with one of his fellow classmates, who is in fact his cousin, over a mathematical formula. Neither of them could prove the other wrong and hence they decided to prove through a sword fight or a duel, during which Brahe lost his nose.

After that unfortunate incident, he used a nose made of metal and used adhesives to glue it on to his face. He even had several noses made of precious metals to suit various occasions. 

He was an affluent guy who almost owned one percent of Denmark’s total wealth and he often conducted festive parties in his castle. He had an elk, one of the largest mammals from the deer family as his pet and he boasted his taming of the deer. Unfortunately, it died when it drank too much beer in a dinner party held by a nobleman of Landskrona. 

Even though he never officially married his wife, in Danish law when a nobleman starts living with a woman for three years, with the keys of the household hanging on the belt of the woman, they are considered married. But, their children will not inherit the nobleman’s properties. They together had eight children.

This favoured Kepler to own all his astronomical observations and data as there were no children to inherit them. Brahe died of his urinary bladder bursting eleven days after attending a banquet at Prague.

Kepler notes that Brahe never leaves the dining table when he had the urge to relieve his bladder, as he thought it was against the etiquette. After the banquet at Prague, he was not able to empty his bladder completely and suffered from extreme pain. It is said that Brahe stated his own epitaph as ‘a man who lived like a sage and died like a fool’.

Sources say that he had an illicit relationship with a member of the royal family, which brought him the wrath of the king but inspired Shakespeare to come up with ‘The Hamlet’.

After his death, Kepler used his astronomical findings, observations and other data to postulate his three laws of planetary motion. Brahe was one among the last scientists who observed the sky with his naked eye and not with a telescope. 

Twice was his body exhumed in 1901 and 201o to investigate further the nature of his death and to identify the metal used in his artificial nose. Although it is widely believed that he died of uremia, there were also speculations that he was poisoned with mercury either by the King or by Kepler, who wanted to get hold of the astronomical data.

Through investigation, it was later found that his death was not due to mercury poisoning, but due to bladder failure and the metal used as his nose was brass. 

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