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Tycho Brahe - The scientist

In the course of 20 intensive years, Tycho Brahe created a completely new scientific institution that was completely unique at that time, on the island of Hven. Together with a great number of assistants, he carried out a carefully thought out plan that used empirical methods to gain new knowledge about the way in which the world had come about.

This was news to the scholastic world. Such a model for knowledge development had not been seen since Alexandria. At this point in time, no real new knowledge was being developed at the European universities. The universities based themselves on the medieval tradition where knowledge was viewed as being static, and their task was to teach what the Greek authorities and the fathers of the Church had developed.

In his early astronomical observations, Tycho had realised that earlier observations had large anomalies. Through his discovery of Stella Nova, and the establishment that it existed far beyond the planets, he had issued a great challenge to Aristotele's theory about the star sphere being eternal and unchanging. It was on Hven that Tycho Brahe began the most ambitious project the world had ever seen, using systematic observations and newly constructed instruments to explain and understand how the universe had come into existence. The support he received from the Danish king was vital for Tycho's ability to carry out his project. At the beginning of the 16th century, knowledge was an important factor for the development of the nation states. King Frederick II realised this, and had supported TychoÕs and other young menÕs studies at foreign universities. When he realised that Tycho was not interested in any traditional military or civil service career, he instead saw an opportunity to utilise Tychos ability and creativity to give the king himself, and Denmark, honours within the scientific area.

In 1574, Tycho was granted the island of Hven, and other sites, which created the basis for financing the research project that he so strongly wished to devote his life to. In 1580, the Uraniborg castle was ready. It had been designed to suit the purpose of the research project. There was a library, laboratory and platforms for observations of the skies. There were three rooms put aside for visiting scientists and princes, and 8 smaller rooms on the second floor for assistants. The assistants were recruited from universities and from the colleagues in Europe, that Tycho maintained correspondance with. Tycho entered into multiple-year contracts with them. In these contracts, they committed themselves to assisting Tycho in his scientific work, and not to reveal the results that were achieved to any outside parties. In return, they received food, lodging and clothing. More than 100 assistants are mentioned by name, as being active on Hven, in the observation protocols, letters and other documents from this time. The assistants originated from a number of different countries in Europe and even after their service on Hven was over, many of them continued their co-operation with Tycho. The research was carried out in subjects such as astronomy, chemistry, medicine, horticultural refinement, meteorology and cartography.

The emphasis of the research was on pragmatic results, and the institutionÕs efforts could quickly be turned to a new area when, for example, the king made such a request. One example of this was cartography, where the state in different ways had an interest in the development of better methods for producing new maps. When Tycho had a new map of Hven drawn up in 1587, it was the first time that triangulation measurement methods were used for map making. The knowledge of what happened on Hven during these years spread quickly in Europe, and Hven became an important place to visit for princes and scientists. Read more about this in the book "On Tychos Island" by Professor Alan Christensson, Cambridge University Press, 19xx.