Friday, February 22, 2008

The Man with the Golden Nose

The astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) was born in Denmark just three years after the publication of De Revolutionibus. As a youth, he studied law, but was so impressed by astronomers’ ability to predict a total solar eclipse on August 21, 1560, that he began to study astronomy on his own. In August 1563, he made his first recorded astronomical observation, a conjunction (a coming together in the sky) of Jupiter and Saturn, and discovered that the existing ephemerides were highly inaccurate. From this point on, Tycho decided to devote his life to careful astronomical observation.

On November 11, 1572, he recorded the appearance of a new star , brighter than Venus, in the constellation Cassiopeia. The publication of his observations (De Nova Stella, 1573) made him famous.

King Frederick II of Denmark gave him land and financed the construction of an observatory Tycho called Uraniborg (after Urania, the muse of astronomy). Here Tycho not only attracted scholars from all over the world, but designed innovative astronomical instruments and made meticulous astronomical observations—the most accurate possible before the invention of the telescope.

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