Tycho Brahe, who was born 475 years ago this week, in Denmark, was one of the most accomplished astronomers in history — and one of the most colorful.
On the professional side, he was a great night-sky observer. Working before the invention of the telescope, he showed that a brilliant “new” star was far beyond Earth, for example — demonstrating that the heavens weren’t unchanging, as most astronomers of the time believed.
On the personal side, Tycho was larger than life. He was a descendant of several noble families, and was stolen away by his uncle when he was only two. In college, after a drunken argument over who was the best mathematician, he fought a sword duel with a cousin. He lost part of his nose, and wore a false nose — made of brass — the rest of his life.
In 1572, he became royal astronomer to the king of Denmark. The king gave him an island, where Tycho built a major observatory and teaching center. But he quarreled with the locals, who objected to his heavy demands.
After the king died, Tycho didn’t get along well with the new king, so he left his island. He became imperial astronomer to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph the Second, and set up a new observatory near Prague.
During a royal banquet, Tycho refused to leave the table to relieve himself. That caused a serious bladder problem. Tycho died from that problem days later — one final episode in the life of one of astronomy’s most colorful characters.
Script by Damond Benningfield