The pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) was one of the first in his field to carry out a systemic study based on the scientific method and exacting empirical facts, and his astronomical and planetary observations were the most accurate possible before the invention of telescopes. His studies in measuring and fixing the stars, and his development of innovative astronomical instruments, paved the way for future advances in astronomy, and one of his assistants, Johannes Kepler, would go on to use data collected by Brahe in formulating his laws of planetary motion.
Born into a wealthy noble family, Brahe was abducted at an early age by a childless uncle who raised him as his own in a castle in Scania, and paid for his education, sending him to study law. After witnessing a solar eclipse at age 14, however, Brahe’s interest turned from law to astronomy, and while he continued to attend lectures on jurisprudence during the day to satisfy his uncle’s wishes, his heart, and nights, were devoted to studying the stars.
In 1563, he made his first observation of the overlapping of Jupiter and Saturn and discovered that all existing almanacs were inaccurate. So he decided to devote his life to making accurate observations of the cosmos to correct the inaccurate tables. Starting in 1565, he began traveling extensively throughout Europe, making observations and collecting instruments, and in the midst of his travels, he got into a duel in 1566, in which he lost half his nose, and for the remainder of his life wore a metal insert over the missing part.
His life mission was helped by the deaths of his father and uncle, which left Brahe a wealthy heir, with the financial wherewithal to pursue and fund his passion for astronomy. In addition to his accumulation of accurately recorded observations, Brahe was also a visionary, and one of his biggest breakthroughs was the theory that stars were not, as had hitherto been believed, fixed in the heavens, but moved about in the cosmos, and had life cycles of birth and destruction.
After a rich career full of accomplishments, such as making him one of the giants upon whose shoulders future luminaries in the field of astronomy stood, Brahe’s days came to a weird end. In October of 1601, while at a banquet in Prague, he felt an urgent need to relieve himself, but resisted doing so because he thought it would be a breach of etiquette and good manners, and so held it in. By the time he got home, something had gone wrong with his bladder and he was unable to urinate at all. 11 days later, he died from what was likely uremia, or urea in the blood.