The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe died on October 24th, 1601.
In 1901, on the 300th anniversary of his death, the bodies of Tycho Brahe and his wife Kirstine were exhumed in Prague. They had been embalmed and were in remarkably good condition, but the astronomer’s artificial nose was missing, apparently pinched by someone after his death. It had been made for him in gold and silver when his original nose was sliced off in a duel fought against his third cousin when he was 20 at Rostock University after a quarrel over some obscure mathematical point.
He always carried a small box of glue in his pocket for use when the new nose became wobbly.
Tycho Brahe was famous for the most accurate and precise observations achieved by any astronomer before the invention of the telescope.
Born to an aristocratic family in Denmark in 1546, he was one of twin boys – the other twin was still-born – and while still a baby Tycho was stolen from his parents by a rich, childless uncle, who paid for his education and sent him to Leipzig University to study law.
His imagination had been fired, however, by a total eclipse of the sun in 1560 and he was determined to be an astronomer. He found that the existing tables recording the positions of planets and stars were wildly inaccurate and dedicated himself to correcting them.
On 11 November 1572, Tycho observed a very bright from Herrevad Abbey, now known as SN 1572, which had unexpectedly appeared in the constellation Cassiopeia.
In 1573, he published a small book De nova stella, coining the term nova for a “new” star. Now we classify it as a supernova and know that it is 7500 light-years from Earth. This discovery was decisive for his choice of astronomy as a profession.
Tycho fell out with King Frederick’s son, Christian IV, and left Denmark in 1597.
Two years later he settled in Prague under the patronage of the Emperor Rudolf II.
Johann Kepler was his pupil and assistant in his final years.
Invited to dinner by an old friend, Tycho drank so heavily that he suffered a rupture and died after some days of agony, aged fifty-four.
Some believed that he had been poisoned by Kepler.
The Emperor Rudolf gave him virtually a state funeral.