The importance of Tycho Brahe

Associate professor Finn Olesen: How important is Tycho Brahe for science and for Denmark?

As a scientist, I view Tycho Brahe as a key contributor to the boom in scientific knowledge and research during the Renaissance era, and an important figure in the breakthrough from the ideas of antique times to modern understanding of cosmology and nature.

Firstly, Tycho Brahe showed through his work that traditional, well-established explanations of astronomical phenomena cannot always stop a persistent, inquisitive scientist. Brahe developed his own models and methodologies, and these enabled him to understand unexpected behaviour in astronomical phenomena, even though they contradicted the antique model of the cosmology of the universe. He thereby showed that meticulous data collection and confidence in one’s own observations are important ingredients in scientific research.

Secondly, Tycho Brahe was able to demonstrate that scientific research is not just about the power of the mind, but also the development of instruments and apparatus which can support the scientist’s own intuitions and strengthen the somewhat limited scope of human observation. Practicable telescopes were not yet available during Brahe’s era, yet he was still able to show that the scientist can produce a convincing set of results by combining astronomical theories and observations with the use of reliable measuring instruments - this was not a matter of course at the time. His use of astronomical instrumentation showed its worth in combination with systematic record keeping, as a basis for astronomical research, and also as a justification for the rewriting of the speculative understanding of the cosmos of antiquity which had prevailed hitherto.

Modern scientific research is, generally speaking, characterised by a meticulous and precise recording of observations and measurements, therefore making them accessible to colleagues. Johannes Kepler, who carried on Brahe’s work after his death, was able to make good use of precise measurements and recordings of the planet Mars’ orbit which were made by Brahe himself, and suggested that the orbit of planets was elliptical and not circular. As such, Brahe set a high standard for the scientific collection of data to be circulated and built upon by other researchers.

Danes are able to note with pride the mark left by Tycho Brahe on the branch of the Renaissance which led towards an accepted, scientific basis for the understanding and explanation of nature’s manifold phenomena – by his unceasing curiosity, result-making instruments and detailed record keeping. The opening of the grave will, for me, have particular significance as a reminder of Tycho Brahe’s legacy to the present, and his role as one of the most distinguished Danish representatives in original, inspirational research.