Brahe, Tycho (1546–1601)
Tycho Brahe, sixteenth-century Danish astronomer and astrologer,
was born on December 14, 1546, in the town of Skane,
Denmark (now Sweden) into a noble family. He received a fine
education at the Universities of Copenhagen and Leipzig, and
because of his status in life was able to further his studies at
other schools in Germany and Switzerland. By the time of his
return to Denmark in 1570 he had begun studies in astronomy
and alchemy. Astronomy was still in a rather primitive state,
and Brahe saw the need of improving the standards of accurate
observation. The king of Denmark funded a new observatory,
named Uraniborg, on the island of Hven.
Brahe made notable advances during his two decades at
Hven. He published several books (some published on his own
printing press), designed new instruments for measuring the
movement of the various heavenly bodies, and trained a new
generation of astronomers. He instituted the regular continuous
observation of the planets, making note of a number of anomalies
in their orbits. Then in 1597, he had a falling-out with
the king and he packed up his possessions and left the country.
While disrupting his life, it was a fortuitous move and he eventually
settled in Prague, where he would live the rest of his life.
There he hired a young assistant named Johannes Kepler who
would take the calculations Brahe had made and determined
that the planetary orbits were elliptical, not circular. Taken together,
the work of Brahe and Kepler did much to destroy the
older earth-centered view of the solar system and facilitate the
transition to the heliocentric (sun-centered) view.
What is often forgotten, or simply ignored by historians of
science, was that Brahe was also a mundane astrologer. Mundane
astrology studies the charts of nations that are read much
as are charts of individuals. Among the events of most interest
to mundane astrologers are comets, and Brahe is remembered
for his very accurate observations of the comet of 1577, an enigma
of some importance in understanding the fate of Denmark,
but which also contributed to the destruction of the Aristotelian
idea of heavenly spheres. Brahe also did work on the relationship
of natural disasters and planetary conjunctions (when two
planets come very close to each other in the heavens). This
work led to his preliminary understanding of aspects, key angular
relations (0, 60, 90, 120, and 180 degrees) between planets
as observed from the Earth, at the time still an important part
of astronomy. Astronomers tended to focus their observations
of planets to evenings when they reached an important aspect.
Kepler would take Brahes’ observations and develop the comprehensive
theory of aspects that is now commonly used in astrological
chart interpretation.
Brahe died on October 21, 1601, in Prague.
Sources
Dreyer, J. L. E. Tycho Brahe A Picture of Scientific Life and
Work in the Sixteenth Century. Edinburgh Adam & Charles
Black, 1890.
Kitson, Annabella, ed. History and Astrology Clio and Urania
Confer. London Mandala, 1989.
Thoren, Victor E. The Lord of Uraniborg A Biography of Tycho
Brahe. Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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