Tycho Brahe, the scandalous astronomer – Dan Wenkel

Tycho Brahe, the scandalous astronomer – Dan Wenkel

How do you imagine the life of a scientist? Boring and monotonous, spending endless hours in the lab with no social interaction? Maybe for some but not Tycho Brahe. The 16th century scholar who accurately predicted planetary motion and cataloged hundreds of stars before the telescope had been invented also had a cosmic-sized personal life. Tycho Brahe was born in 1546 to Danish nobles, but at age two was kidnapped to be raised by his uncle instead. His parents didn’t seem to mind. Tycho was supposed to have a career in law, but after witnessing a solar eclipse at thirteen, he began spending more time with mathematics and science professors, who taught him the art of celestial observation. By the time Tycho’s uncle sent him off to Germany a few years later, he had lost interest in his law studies, instead reading astronomy books, improving his instruments, and taking careful notes of the night skies. It wasn’t long before his own measurements were more accurate than those in his books. While in Germany, Tycho got into a bit of an argument with another student at a party over a mathematical formula, resulting in a sword duel and Tycho losing a good-sized chunk of his nose. After that, he was said to have worn a realistic prosthetic of gold and silver that he would glue onto his face. Fortunately, Tycho didn’t need his nose to continue his astronomical work. He kept studying the night sky and creating all sorts of instruments, including a building-sized quadrant for measuring the angles of stars. After months of careful observation, Tycho discovered a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia. The publication of this discovery granted him rock star status and offers of scientific positions all over Europe. Wanting to keep him at home, the King of Denmark offered to give Tycho his own personal island with a state of the art observatory. Called Uraniborg and costing about 1% of Denmark’s entire budget, this observatory was more of a castle, containing formal gardens, rooms for family, staff and visiting royalty, and an underground section just for all the giant instruments. Tycho also built a papermill and printing press for publishing his papers, and a lab for studying alchemy. And since no castle would be complete without entertainment, Tycho employed a clairvoyant dwarf named Jep as court jester. Tycho lived on his island, studying and partying for about 20 years. But after falling out with the new Danish King, he took up an invitation from the Holy Roman Emperor to become the official imperial astronomer in Prague. There, he met another famous astronomer Johannes Kepler, who became his assistant. While Kepler’s work interested him, Tycho was protective of his data, and the two often got into heated arguments. In 1601, Tycho attended a formal banquet where he drank quite a lot but was too polite to leave the table to relieve himself, deciding to tough it out instead. This proved to be a bad idea, as he quickly developed a bladder infection and died a few days later. But over 400 years after his death, Tycho still had a few surprises up his sleeve. When his body was exhumed and studied in 2010, the legendary gold and silver nose was nowhere to be found, with chemical traces suggesting that he wore a more casual brass nose instead. Tycho’s mustache hair was also found to contain unusually high levels of toxic mercury. Was it from a medicine used to treat his bladder infection? A residue from his alchemy experiments? Or did his quarrelsome coworker Johannes Kepler poison him to acquire his data? We may never know, but the next time you think scientists lead boring lives, dig a little deeper. A fascinating story may be just beyond the tip of your nose.


  1. 0:53 – yeah, that's totally what "germany" looked like in the 16th century, lol

    Is it really THAT hard to get the right map for that time?

  2. "acquire his data"? How about steal his data! Tycho's belonging were suppose to be sent to his family.

    Am I suppose to believe the man was too polite to get up and take a piss? Gimme a break. if the man was so popular(rock star status), I don't think he'd care if it someone was offended because he had to go relieve himself. I put my money on Kepler poisoning him so he could steal his papers.

  3. This is seriously too funny! Well done. I am studying Tycho Brahe for an adventure game I'm creating because his biography is simply priceless. You can't make this stuff up!! 😀 You forgot the part about his pet moose (yup, moose!) who drank too much beer, fell down the stairs and died.

  4. The cartoon-ization of history. WHAT NEXT? This is for  people who don't even know their intelligence is being insulted. I'm sorry to see TED stooping so low. I see this stuff as pap for the generation who grew up (so to speak) in the mind-numbing business of watching Sesame St and other TV dreck. Short attention span, shallow interests, and a requirement to be amused. Such clients are the despair of college-level teachers. Yes the colleges no longer have students, but clients who want their (or their parents") money's worth. An appalling development.

  5. New York Times now reports that John Kepler, that astrology sun worshipping fool, forged his data to support Heliocentrism. John Kepler is a FRAUD, and also poisoned Tycho Brahe, whom he worked for.

    It's ironic that occult scientists glorify Coppernicus, who only had a formal education in religious law…

    So if John Kepler forged his data, we can't trust his BS ellipse orbits with retrograde motion–rather, we must rely on Ptolemy, who used epicycles (found in nature) to explain the size changes of venus, mars, etc. His orbits from a Fibonacci pattern like a sunflower.

  6. Tycho's contribution was mostly the accurate data he accumulated for 20 years in his nightly observations of the heavens.  It was Kepler who made the best use of that data, and came up with the accurate laws of motion, after Tycho's death.

  7. Not trying to be "that guy" but as a person from Denmark and a man who studies its history, you guys got just two things wrong, his cousin was the one that cut off his nose, and he did not pass away from drinking, in fact he won many drinking battles in his castle. (And you pronounced the castle name wrong)

  8. Oui ce savant ne nous fait pas savoir ses découvertes et secrets, puisqu'il est mort vraisemblablement, empoisonné par ses concurrents?
    J'ai du mal a croire que sa mort est le fait d'une autre cause.
    Donc je peut très bien imaginer que son élève, et le reste de ses suppléants, ont continuer les thèses suite à celles de Tycho Brahe.
    Cette science là, est malfaisante et suis son court jusqu'à ce jours.
    Mince, c'est une confiance que je ne peux pas avoir.

  9. This guy was awesome! not only for discovering the first sypernova, now named SN 1572 (7500 light years away) but also for thugging it-out with his third cousin over math formula! I love science drama.

  10. thank you so much ted ed team. i like this video. i would like to watch some more scientists story with you , so please do some more videos on scientists.

  11. Thanks for the video but I think the section on his relationship with Kepler is inaccurate – he respected Kepler and shared his data w/ him while he was alive – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tycho_Brahe#Relationship_with_Kepler

  12. Tycho's 'heliocentric-geocentrism' seems noteworthy … for those of us who do see the cosmos rotating about us.
    Thumbs down for not hinting on Tycho's invaluable model(s).

  13. "And since no castle would be complete without entertainment, Tycho employed a clairvoyant dwarf as court jester." WTF i died. i feel like we are really not getting the whole story with this castle lyfe Tycho was livin

  14. He was poisoned, probably by Kepler, if you take a deeper look at Heliocentric model, you will see his also just by changing the centre of mass of the solar system. Peace

  15. Hello, I would like to inform you that: Tycho Brahe was (almost) right. Copernicus was (completely) wrong. I have just today published my new website which explains it all. Enjoy the read! : www.tychos.info

  16. I dream of a time when scientists and philosophers live in mansions and castles, instead of glorified jesters and ball-kickers.

  17. Stick with the "Holy Roman Empire" instead of Germany which didn't exist at the time. Especially not in the borders of 1990.

  18. 0:52 why? why would you make the land in a map look blue and the sea look reddish? who does that? C'mon, Ted!

  19. Tycho believed that the sun revolved around the earth which is true. The earth is a stationary enclosed environment.

  20. To me, it happened the exact opposite! I was suposed to learn astronomy (my father's wish) but i ended studying law.

  21. Find it odd that no one in comments is suggesting syphillus as the real reason behind his facial deformity and mercury consumption. Am I missing something obvious?

  22. The map of Denmark isn't by far correct 0:51–0:55. This by far very important be course of the still ongoing debate between Denmark and Sweden.

  23. 1:10 is noone going to mention how this dude got in an argument with that nerd and got his nose chopped off?

  24. Wait what? How could he breathe when his nose was cut and till the time he should be dead until his golden nose was made and how can he breathe with that

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