Tycho Brahe

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Tycho Brahe

Tycho Brahe was having a hard time deciding what to do with his life. He’d studied astronomy, but he was also interested in alchemy — changing one element into another — as well as other fields. It took an exploding star to make up his mind.

As he walked out of his laboratory one night in 1572, Tycho saw a brilliant new star in the sky — brighter than the planet Venus. He watched it for months. His work showed that the star was far from Earth. And that demonstrated that the heavens could change — an idea that went against the science of the day. That made him famous, and convinced him to concentrate on astronomy.

Tycho was born 475 years ago today, in Denmark. After his writings about the “new star” — known today as Tycho’s Supernova — he became royal astronomer to the king of Denmark. He built big observatories on an island. The telescope hadn’t been invented yet, so he used instruments that helped him plot the stars with his eyes alone. And he was good at it — perhaps the best naked-eye observer in history.

In addition to his work with stars, for example, Tycho showed that comets are far beyond Earth — not odd phenomena in the atmosphere, as most scientists thought.

Tycho’s observatory also was a center of learning, with dozens of students studying science and other fields. It remained busy until Tycho had a falling out with the new king. Yet his legacy was secure — as one of the great astronomers in history.

More tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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