Tycho Brahe was one of astronomy’s most colorful characters. He lost his nose in a duel, built a great research center, and often quarreled with other scientists. And he made enemies in two royal courts.
Tycho died colorfully, too. Either he suffered a burst bladder after an evening of drinking — or he was murdered. To find out which, scientists exhumed his body 10 years ago today.
Tycho was born in 1546 — long before the invention of the telescope. Yet he compiled detailed records of the heavens. He proved that comets and the “new” stars known today as supernovae are in space, not inside Earth’s atmosphere. And his assistant, Johannes Kepler, later used Tycho’s catalogs to produce laws of planetary motion.
Tycho died in 1601, a few days after attending an event with his patron, the Holy Roman Emperor. It was believed that he refused to leave the table to relieve himself, so he died of a burst bladder.
But rumors developed that he was murdered by Kepler — perhaps by mercury poisoning. Tycho was an alchemist, so he often worked with the element. He was exhumed in 1901, and scientists found traces of mercury in his beard.
The newer analysis, though, found little of it — supporting the idea that he died of a ruptured bladder. And it found something else. After his duel, Tycho wore a false nose, which most thought was made of silver or gold. Instead, it was made of brass — a plain substance for a colorful character.
Script by Damond Benningfield