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Brahe, Tycho,

star observatory stars solar

Tyge Brahe ( Dan ) [brah- hoe] (1546–1601) Danish astronomer: produced important star catalogue; the greatest pre-telescopic observer.

Brahe, son of a nobleman, was brought up by a childless uncle who effectively kidnapped him, gave him a good education and planned a political career for him. However, young Tycho at 14 saw the partial solar eclipse of 1560 and devoted his life to astronomy thereafter.

Brahe was without doubt the greatest astronomical observer of the pre-telescopic era. In 1572 he observed a nova (exploding star) in Cassiopeia, the first to be visible to the naked eye since 134 BC , and demonstrated that it was a ‘fixed’ star and outside the solar system. (It was brighter than Venus for more than a year.) This was cosmologically very important, as it had been believed since time that the stars were eternal and immovable. His observations made his reputation. In 1577 the patronage of the king of Denmark, Frederick II, made possible his second great achievement. Frederick gave him the island of Hven as a gift for life, with funds to build the observatory of Uraniborg; Brahe furnished it with the best and largest instruments available, many of them designed by himself. He devoted the next 20 years to measuring the positions of 777 stars with unprecedented accuracy, thus providing an invaluable body of information for later astronomers, particularly . He was probably the first to realize that multiple observations (such as he made) are much superior to single measurements in scientific work.

  In 1596 Frederick’s successor, Christian IV, forced Brahe to leave Hven. After 3 years of travelling he settled in Prague, sponsored by the mad emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Rudolph II. He was given a castle near Prague as an observatory, and acquired the young Kepler as his assistant; the association was very fruitful, although stormy. Brahe died 2 years later, leaving Kepler to publish their star catalogue, the Rudolphine Tables , in 1627. Talented, energetic, eccentric and quarrelsome, Brahe lost most of his nose in a duel when at 19 he fought over a mathematical dispute; his false nose, made by himself from silver, can be seen in contemporary portraits. The nova of 1572 is known as ‘Tycho’s star’ and the best-known of lunar craters is also named after him. The magnificent Uraniborg observatory was destroyed by fire in the Thirty Years War. It had housed a research community, forcefully directed by Brahe, which made it a major research centre and attracted young astronomers from all over Europe.

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