Astronomer Tycho Brahe was born 460 years ago

Tycho Brahe

Most of us have probably come across the astronomical terms nova and supernova - but did you know that the word "nova" was actually coined by an astronomer with a close connection to Prague? It is 460 years to the day since one of the founders of modern astronomy Tycho Brahe was born, on December 14, 1546. He spent the final years of his life in the Czech lands and he found his final resting place in Prague's Týn Church, within earshot of the famous Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.

Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe was a Danish nobleman who studied law at the University of Copenhagen to fulfil the wish of his childless uncle. However, his primary interest was always astronomy - ever since the age of 14 when he observed a solar eclipse. The fact that it had been predicted fascinated him and he devoted himself to the study of astronomy, astrology and also alchemy.

Even though his observations took place before the telescope was first used, they were very accurate. In 1572, Tycho observed a very bright object in the constellation Cassiopeia. He published a book on it called "De Stella Nova" (On a New Star), thus coining the term "nova". (Today we know the object he observed was actually a supernova.)

Tycho Brahe demonstrating a celestial globe to Emperor Rudolph II, a painting by Eduard Ender, 1855
Following disputes with Denmark's King Christian, Tycho moved to the Czech lands, with the aid of Bohemian nobleman Tadeas Hajek z Hajku, who helped him found an observatory at a castle in the small town of Benatky nad Jizerou northeast of Prague. Tycho stayed there for a year and then moved to Prague to the court of Emperor Rudolph II. Astronomer Jan Palous:

"He came to Prague at the beginning of the year 1600 and he was a very bright and very sharp observer of that époque. He had a lot of very precise data on planetary positions in the sky. And because of him, Johannes Kepler came to Prague and later he was able to use the data collected by Tycho Brahe. Actually the first two Kepler's Laws on the motion of planets around the Sun were formulated in Prague."

Emperor Rudolph II. was very keen on the arts as well as sciences and magic. Tycho was Rudolph's court astronomer and astrologer until his death at the age of 54. Legend has it that a burst bladder was the cause of his death, but historians believe he either died of some urinary tract disease or he overdosed on mercury while trying to treat his syphilis.