Essay, Research Paper: Tycho Brahe

Astronomy

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Tycho Brahe Tyge (Latinized as Tycho) Brahe was born on 14 December 1546 in
Skane, then in Denmark, now in Sweden. He was the eldest son of Otto Brahe and
Beatte Bille, both from families in the high nobility of Denmark. He was brought
up by his paternal uncle Jörgen Brahe and became his heir. He attended the
universities of Copenhagen and Leipzig, and then traveled through the German
region, studying further at the universities of Wittenberg, Rostock, and Basel.
During this period his interest in alchemy and astronomy was aroused, and he
bought several astronomical instruments. In 1572 Tycho observed the new star in
Cassiopeia and published a brief tract about it the following year. In 1574 he
gave a course of lectures on astronomy at the University of Copenhagen. He was
now convinced that the improvement of astronomy hinged on accurate observations.
After another tour of Germany, where he visited astronomers, Tycho accepted an
offer from the King Frederick II to fund an observatory. He was given the little
island of Hven in the Sont near Copenhagen, and there he built his observatory,
Uraniburg, which became the finest observatory in Europe. Tycho designed and
built new instruments, calibrated them, and instituted nightly observations. He
also ran his own printing press. The observatory was visited by many scholars,
and Tycho trained a generation of young astronomers there in the art of
observing. After a falling out with King Christian IV, Tycho packed up his
instruments and books in 1597 and left Denmark. After traveling several years,
he settled in Prague in 1599 as the Imperial Mathematician at the court of
Emperor Rudolph II. He died there in 1601. His instruments were stored and
eventually lost. Tycho Brahe's contributions to astronomy were enormous. He not
only designed and built instruments, he also calibrated them and checked their
accuracy periodically. He thus revolutionized astronomical instrumentation. He
also changed observational practice profoundly. Whereas earlier astronomers had
been content to observe the positions of planets and the Moon at certain
important points of their orbits. Tycho and his cast of assistants observed
these bodies throughout their orbits. As a result, a number of orbital anomalies
never before noticed were made explicit by Tycho. Without these complete series
of observations of unprecedented accuracy, Kepler could not have discovered that
planets move in elliptical orbits. Tycho was also the first astronomer to make
corrections for atmospheric refraction*. In general, whereas previous
astronomers made observations accurate to perhaps 15 arc minutes, those of Tycho
were accurate to perhaps 2 arc minutes, and it has been shown that his best
observations were accurate to about half an arc minute. Tycho's observations of
the new star of 1572 and comet of 1577, and his publications on these phenomena,
were instrumental in establishing the fact that these bodies were above the Moon
and that therefore the heavens were not immutable as Aristotle had argued and
philosophers still believed. The heavens were changeable and therefore the
Aristotelian division between the heavenly and earthly regions came under attack
(see, for instance, Galileo's Dialogue) and was eventually dropped. Further, if
comets were in the heavens, they moved through the heavens. Up to now it had
been believed that planets were carried on material spheres (spherical shells)
that fit tightly around each other. Tycho's observations showed that this
arrangement was impossible because comets moved through these spheres. Celestial
spheres faded out of existence between 1575 and 1625. Tycho developed a system
that combined the best of both worlds. He kept the Earth in the center of the
universe, so that he could retain Aristotelian physics The Moon and Sun revolved
about the Earth, and the shell of the fixed stars was centered on the Earth. But
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn revolved about the Sun. He put the
(circular) path of the comet of 1577 between Venus and Mars. This Tychonic world
system became popular early in the seventeenth century among those who felt
forced to reject the Ptolemaic arrangement of the planets (in which the Earth
was the center of all motions) but who, for various reasons, could not accept
the Copernican alternative. Tycho's major works include De Nova et Nullius Aevi
Memoria Prius Visa Stella ("On the New and Never Previously Seen Star)
(Copenhagen, 1573); De Mundi Aetherei Recentioribus Phaenomenis
("Concerning the New Phenomena in the Ethereal World) (Uraniburg, 1588);
Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica ("Instruments for the Restored
Astronomy") (Wandsbeck, 1598; English tr. Copenhagen, 1946); Astronomiae
Instauratae Progymnasmata ("Introductory Exercises Toward a Restored
Astronomy") (Prague 1602). His observations were not published during his
lifetime.

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