An eccentric nobleman from Denmark
Tycho Brahe was the eccentric Danish scientist who put Ven on the world map – as early as the 16th century.
At Ven, Tycho established one of Europe’s first scientific institutions using empirical research. The facility on the island included, among other things, of the spectacular castle Uraniborg, the subterranean observatory Stjärneborg and the breathtaking Renaissance Garden.
Tycho Brahe was born on 14 December, 1546 at Knutstorp Castle in Skåne – which at the time was a Danish province. His parents, Otte Brahe and Beate Bille, belonged to the most powerful part of the Danish high aristocracy and several of his relatives served the King as Privy Council or as overlord of any fortress. Tycho was raised by his uncle Jörgen Brahe and his wife Inger Oxe at Tostrup Castle. He also spent much time at Herrevadskloster, another mansion.
At the age of 13 Tycho was sent to the University of Copenhagen to study philosophy and rhetoric. A solar eclipse in 1560 aroused his interest in astronomy and he began to read books in the topic. He studied law, arts and sciences at the universities of Leipzig, Wittenberg, Rostock and Basel. In Leipzig he began to study astronomy without permission from his parents’, but after having shown success he was quickly forgiven. He discovered that old observations often were not as accurate as the pretended to be and he began constructing methods and instruments for high-precision measurement of celestial bodies.
During his time in Rostock it is said that Tycho was involved in a conflict with another student. It ended with a duel in which Tycho’s nose was deeply injured. For the rest of his life he covered the scar with a prothesis, probably made from a silver-copper alloy, in order to imitate the skin’s color.
In 1570 Tycho returned to Skåne. He spent a lot of time at Herrevadskloster, which was owned by his uncle, Steen Bille. At Herrevadskloster he built a laboratory and devoted himself with great interest to studying alchemy. On November 11th, 1572 Tycho observed a new and very bright star in the Cassiopeia constellation. Tycho’s measurements showed that it was indeed a distant star and not a local phenomenon. Awareness of this discovery spread quickly since the star vault was considered divine and perfect and therefore not subject to changes. Tycho observed the brightness of the star until it faded away the following year. He reported the incident in his book “De stella nova”, which made him famous throughout Europe.
Thanks to Tycho’s fame, he was offered scientific assignments all over Europe. The Danish King, however, persuaded Tycho to stay in Denmark. Tycho was granted the island of Ven in the strait between Denmark and Sweden as well as the income from a number of properties. In return, he would build his own observatory on Ven and lead an ambitious scientific program. This is estimated to have cost Denmark 1-3% of the country’s gross domestic product, a world record that has stood ever since.
In 1597 dissidences between Tycho and the Danish court arouse and Tycho was forced to leave Denmark. He went into exile in Prague, where emperor Rudolf ll appointed him imperial court astronomer. The Emperor gave him the Castle Benatky as a residence. Tycho brought his printing press and his instruments and continued his observation work. He appointed the Mathematician Johannes Kepler, who traveled to Benatky in 1600, as his assistant. Having worked together less than a year, Tycho died. Later on, Kepler compiled Tycho Brahe’s observations and from these he drew conclusions that brought the knowledge of our planetary system to a new, higher level.
Tycho Brahe died on 24 October, 1601. His grave has been excavated several times, but no cause of death has yet been determined. Today, Ven is a beautiful, very lively, tourist-friendly island. The Tycho Brahe Museum is visited by tens of thousands of interested visitors every year.
Photo: Mickael Tannus