Do you enjoy science and math? How serious are you about them? The great 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe was very serious about science and math, even at a young age. At fourteen, he heard that a solar eclipse would occur on August 21, 1560. When it happened precisely at the indicated time, he was so amazed that his life course was set.
At nineteen, he got into an argument about mathematics with another young man named Manderupius. As the argument became more heated they began to trade insults, until finally they decided to arrange a duel with swords. In a wild rush, Manderupius swung his sword and cut off Tycho's nose.
This neither inhibited him nor discouraged him from pursuing his life's work. He made two fake noses for himself, one from brass and putty, while the other from silver and gold. He used a special cement to keep it in place, which worked fairly well until he sneezed, sending it flying across the room. With his red hair, mustache, and beard, along with his blue eyes and golden nose, he was quite a colorful figure, and a topic of conversation throughout Denmark. His attention, however, was fixed on the stars.
On November 11, 1572 he observed something that became so bright that it could be seen even in the daytime. This was a "new" star that suddenly appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Although it came to be known as the Nova Stella, or new star, people quickly began calling it "Tycho's star." "De Nova Stella", also became the title of his first published work. Of course, even he knew at the time that it wasn't really a "new" star, but just a star that had flared up, becoming brighter. To this day, such an expanding star is called a nova, while a star that expands out of control and explodes is called a supernova. Tycho's star was just a nova; it remained visible for about a year and a half, after which it gradually faded from sight.
Tycho worked at the first astronomical observatory in history, located on land, granted to him by King Frederick II of Denmark, on the island of Hveen. For 21 years he was content here with his devoted wife, his dog, and his work. Although he was an aristocrat, he had married a peasant girl, which outraged his relatives. He simply ignored them.
While he could be arrogant and single minded, especially while he was working, he was also intelligent, perseverant, and just. He also had a sense of humor, pretending at times to consult his dog, Lep the Oracle, about difficult astronomical problems. His devotion to his dog eventually led to his undoing.
One day as he was showing the Chancellor of Denmark around his observatory, Lep the Oracle appeared, looking up at his master. Since he was blocking the way, the Chancellor yelled at the dog to move, waving his arm. When he didn't move, the Chancellor kicked the dog out of the way. Enraged, Tycho turned on the Chancellor, calling him a mean spirit. According to the book Dr. Posin's Giants, he shouted "I don't care who you are! This is my domain. This is my dog, my noble friend, and you won't dare touch him again!"
Later, when the old king died and Christian IV came to power, the Chancellor influenced him to take away Tycho's island, his observatory, and all of his sources of income. In June of 1599, he packed up his instruments and left. Already famous for his work, the Emperor of Prague, Rudolph II, welcomed him with open arms, giving him a pension and allotting him a castle to work in.
Sadly, this arrogant, industrious, brilliant, and humorous astronomer, died in this castle on October 24, 1601, at the age of 54. According to a website, on his deathbed, he is reported to have muttered the words "Ne frustra vixisse videar" over and over, which means approximately, "May I not seemed to have lived in vain."
He certainly had not lived in vain. After his death, his assistant, Johannes Kepler, had Tycho's work published in a two volume set. They contained exhaustive studies of the motions of the sun and moon, the positions of 777 fixed stars, and observations of the comet of 1577. Tycho himself had previously published valuable works on his observations and instruments, and Kepler later used his highly accurate and massive quantity of data, to calculate the three laws of planetary motion for which he became famous. Although he worked in the days before telescopes were used by astronomers, he has been called the greatest observational astronomer who has ever lived.