The Father of Modern Astronomy: Tycho Brahe and The Rundetårn

February 21, 2016

The Danish astronomer Thyge Ottosen Brahe, known to many only as Tycho Brahe, the Latin version of his Danish name, as it was the style of the time to take the Latin version of your given name. He is known as the father of modern observing astronomy, and he has his observatories preserved in Copenhagen and on the island of Hven in Denmark. He is buried in Prague in the region of Böhmen in Teyn Church, and is one of the many sights that Danes often visit.

He has a planetarium named after him in Copenhagen, a modern observatory that would have been the first place Tycho himself would have visited if he came back in our time.

This is a picture of Tycho Brahe silver nose and all, in his prime, dressed as a normal gentleman did at the time.

Brahe is born on the 14 of December 1546 in the Danish region Skåne, now a part of Sweden, and died in 1601 after attending a party, where legend says he did not leave the table to use the restroom and therefor his bladder burst. It is not the truth. In later years, his body has been put through an autopsy, and he suffered from bladder infection and that is what most likely caused his death. There have also been rumors that Johannes Keppler, a fellow astronomer, killed him through mercury poisoning, but there is no evidence to support that either.

Tycho Brahe started at Copenhagen University already at the age of 12, it was not unusual at the time, but Tycho Brahe still proved to be exceptionally gifted and despite starting to study law, astronomy was the passion he turned to throughout his life.  From an early age he realized that he needed to make constant observations and started building the observatories on Hven, he named the observatories Uranienborg and Stjerneborg so he could observe the night sky every night. He is a huge fan of the studies of Kopernicus and he proved that many of the early observations of the skies and the stars were wrong.

Tycho Brahe has been working many places throughout Europe, but he never got to work in Rundetårn Copenhagen, the tower the observatory was built in the spirit of Tycho Brahe to continue his amazing work in astronomy. The observatory that is still working today, and is the oldest observatory still working in Europe.

From inside the dome of the Rundetårn where the telescope stands.

It is possible to visit the working observatory from November to the end of May and follow the sky, but it is best to make an appointment beforehand. You can book tours and get lectures on the life of the greatest Danish astronomer.

On the top of the tower surrounding the observatory you find a small platform from which you find the best view of the Latin quarter in Copenhagen where you also find the original university buildings and get guided tours of the surrounding area and the many historical buildings. The top of Rundetårn that holds the observatory has been replaced many times over the years, and the current top is from 1929 and the architect is Jens Olsen, who also built the watch standing in the town hall in Copenhagen

When you look at Rundetårn you will see a building full of history, it is built by Christian the fourth, knows as the architect of Denmark, the tower was originally a part of the university of Copenhagen, the scientists has long since vacated the premises, but the observatory still stand as a beacon to the heavens.

The observatory on the top of the tower seen from a neighboring building.

Rundetårn is in itself a unique building, it has no stairs but a cobbled road leading to the top, it looks like a road leading its way 48 meters above ground level and legend tells it was because Christian the 4 of Denmark wanted to be able to ride his horse to the top or be driven in a small buggy (horse drawn carriage) to the top.

The tower of course holds a variety of astronomic instruments and they also have a piece of the cloth in which Tycho Brahe was swept before put to rest in his grave. Donated by Brewmaster Hoffmeyer on the day the Rundetårn turned 300 years.

Picture of the cobbled “road” leading to the top in the more than 300 years old tower. It spins 7, 5 times round the hollow core before reaching the top and it is a 209 meters long walk, not much but it is a steep climb.

The Rundetårn is connected to the old university library and to Trinitatis Church, multiple artists like H.C. Andersen, Holberg, Kirkegaard and the kings and queens of Denmark have used the library and often been seen at the top of the tower looking at the capital of Denmark from above.

The observatory along with the tower, the church and the museum residing on the top of the church loft offer tours where you can hear the stories of astronomy, the tower and the explorations of Tycho Brahe that led to the astronomy tower being built in the first place.

If you take a look at the website for the Rundetårn, you can easily find which tours you can book and they have a wide selection. You are able to book tours about the tower, about the old university library, about instruments and the history behind them, displayed in the museum, an overall history tour of Copenhagen is also available and it goes without saying that you are able to join in the tours telling you about astronomy and the many sightings Tycho Brahe and his successors did, and you will be able to use the telescope and gaze at the skies and hopefully the weather shows itself from it best side and allows you to look into the everlasting space.

A chance to walk in the footsteps of scientists like Tycho Brahe, Johannes Keppler, Ole Rømer and many more, who have spent their life looking at the stars, trying to uncover the mysteries of the universe.

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