Category Archives: Sweden

Tycho Brahe Museum in Ven

Main entrance of the museum dedicated to Tycho Brahe Photography by Carlos Dorce

Main entrance of the museum dedicated to Tycho Brahe
Photography by Carlos Dorce

Ven is a small island in the Öresund strait.  Its population is less than 400 inhabitants and it is situated in Landskrona Municipality in Sweden although the island was Danish in Brahe’s times. It is a very quiet place and the landscape is very beautiful but I have visited it today for another important reason (a very mathematical reason!): astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) built two observatories here between 1576 and 1596, Uraniborg and Stjerneborg. This is my second post about Brahe and I am very happy because I have had the opportunity of learning things about Brahe’s life that I didn’t know before (link to Brahe’s bithplace). Brahe was an aristocratic person who was so interested for the Astronomy. I’ve been in Uraniborg with one of my colleagues (Laura Gómez) and the staff of the museum has opened it only for us and a guide has very kind for having shown us all the details of the museum. Nowadays, the museum is inside a church and Uraniborg castle and Stjeneborg are in the gardens:

The museum is inside this church Photography by Carlos Dorce

The museum is inside this church
Photography by Carlos Dorce

The day has been very cold and windy but this hasn’t been a problem for us. The first panel of the museum has welcomed us with a short ad about Brahe:

Tycho Brahe lived in the second half of the sixteenth century, during he era known as the Renaissance  He was born into one of the most powerful families of the Danish kingdom, and he received the thorough education of a young nobleman at different German universities.

His lefelong passion was astronomy. During his lifetime the great topic of discussion was which world system is correct. Is it the earth or the sun that is motionless at the centre of the universe? Tycho Brahe doubted that it could be the sun. But he resolutely affirmed that the answer had to be sought in careful observations of the positions and movements of the heavenly bodies. During his years on Ven he methodically charted the heavens with the aid of advanced instruments. His findings paved the way for a new scientific world-view.

Tycho’s life was chequered and dramatic. During his time here on the island, Ven became a brilliant centre of European science. He was unconventional in his lifestyle and had a view of women’s ability that was unusual for the time. He was an all-rounder science, with a great talent for organization. Here he shaped the kingdom of Urania.

Welcome to the Tycho Brahe Museum!

Tycho Brahe Museum Photography by Carlos Dorce

Tycho Brahe Museum
Photography by Carlos Dorce

You can learn a lot of things about Brahe’s life and his instruments in the museum. For example, there are reproductions of his quadrant and his famous sextant:

Brahe's sextant Photography by Carlos Dorce

Brahe’s sextant
Photography by Carlos Dorce

When taking measures, the quadrant was turned until it pointed towards the star. The ruler with the sight was then moved along the arc until the star was visible in the sight. The altitude of the star was read off on the scale on the arc and the direction of the star was read off on the circular scale running round the room.

So the sextant was used to measure the angular distance between stars (the stellar distance).

All the instruments were placed in the terraces of Uraniborg main building which was a not so big castle built in the higher point of the island:

For a lord like Tycho Brahe it was important to have a beautiful residence to mark his status. As soon as Tycho arrived on Ven he started building his castle. It was modelled on modern castles that he had seen on his travels in Europe. The castle that stood here was reminiscent of the masterpiece of the architect Palladio, the Villa Rotunda. […]

Tycho called his castle Uraniborg after the Greek goddess of astronomy, Urania. The building was purposefully deseigned in the service of science, and it was Europe’s first astronomical observatory.

Uraniborg main building
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another of the instruments which Tycho built for his Urania was the Quadrans MAgnus Chalibeus (1588) with which it was possible to measure altitudes and the azimuth of any star.

Brahe's quadrant Photography by Carlos Dorce

Brahe’s quadrant
Photography by Carlos Dorce

Tycho’s achievements as an astronomer were pioneering. He sought to re-establish the high science of classical times through meticulous and direct observations of the heavenly bodies. For several decades he surveyed the heavens with the aid of advanced instruments. His measurements were unique in their accuracy, and would not be surpassed for almost three centuries.

The visit continues in the Observatory of Stjerneborg, next to Uraniborg. The weather of the island is always windy and all the instruments placed in the terraces teetered because of this strong wind. Therefore, Tycho decided to build a new observatory under the ground:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The current reconstruction of this space takes you back to times of Tycho because you can listen a recreation of one of Tycho’s nights. There are the astronomical instruments placed in the same place as four centuries ago and all the show has been thought to wrap the visitor in this scientific moment.

Brahe's astronomical instrument in aa. Photography by Carlos Dorce

Brahe’s astronomical instrument in Stjerneborg.
Photography by Carlos Dorce

Here he got the best series of observations and astronomical data than any other scientist in those times.

Brahe's astronomical instrument in Stjerneborg. Photography by Carlos Dorce

Observatory of Stjerneborg.
Photography by Carlos Dorce

Here he got the best series of observations and astronomical data than any other scientist in those times. Tycho Brahe was one of the most wonderful scientists of the XVIth century and we must remember that Johannes Kepler deduced his three Physic laws from Brahe’s observations in Prague. So, I have enjoyed Uraniborg and Stjerneborg a lot and I can assure you that today has been one of my most wonderful Mathematical days:

Brahe looking at the nova in Casiopea Photography by Carlos Dorce

Brahe looking at a new nova in Casiopea
Photography by Carlos Dorce

And… that’s all folks. If you visit Malmö or Copenhagen, this is one of the most scientific trips that you must do!

Me in Stjerneborg  Photography by Laura Gómez

Me in Stjerneborg
Photography by Laura Gómez

Localització: Ven island (map)

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Knutstorps slott: the castle where Tycho Brahe was born

Knutstorps Castle (Svälov, Sweden). Font: Wikimedia Commons

The great Danish astronomer Brahe Tyge (whose name is better known in its Latin version of Tycho Brahe) was born on 14 December 1546 in Knutstorp Castle. The young Tyge came from a wealthy and aristocratic family very close to King Christian III of Denmark but when he was two years old, her uncle takes Tyge with him and adopt him as their own son. Tyge came into contact with the intellectual concerns of his aunt and probably this was the spark that awoke in him his talent. As a teenager, he went  to the University of Copenhagen (1559) and he was introduced to the world of astronomy through observing a partial solar eclipse (21 of August 1560).  He was especially impressed by the fact that this eclipse had been predicted! His desire of knowledge was main the reason why he bought John Sacrobosco’s Tractatus de Sphaera, Regiomontanus’ De triangulis omnimodis and Petrus Apianus’ Cosmographia seu descriptio totius orbis.

Portrait of Tycho Brahe. Font: Wikimedia Commons

Tycho began a period of ten years in which he traveled through Germany and Denmark studying in different universities: alchemy and mathematics became his great passions. Furthermore, he lost part of his nose in a duel against another scientist who competed with him to see who was the best mathematician! Poor Tyge! When he was 20 he had to wear a silver prosthesis for the rest of his life.

In 1570, Tyge returned to Denmark because his father was very ill (he finally died in May of 1571). Tyge got married with Kirsten Jorgensdatter in 1572 and they had eight sons.

His academic career continued with classes in astronomy at the University of Copenhagen in 1574. In November of 1572 a new nova had appeared  in the constellation of Cassiopeia and that astronomical event had decided his vocation. Thus, in the spring of 1575 he moved to Kassel where William IV of Hesse-Kassel had founded a new observatory. Tyge learnt a lot in his German period so when he returned to Germany again, King Frederick II offered to him the island of Ven to build his own observatory: Uraniborg. Tyge got excited with the idea and he began to design it:

Uraniborg. Font: Wikimedia Commons

Tyge designed his great dream and it became real funded with money from the Danish crown. From the new Uraniborg Tyge was able to observe the comet Halley and he could deduce that this comet was closer the Moon than the Earth contradicting the established ideas. Uraniborg grew so much with the construction of a lot of new observational instruments and it was necessary to build a new observatory in Stjerneborg next to it. Tyge demonstrated that the obliquity of the ecliptic had decreased since the time of Ptolemy’s Almagest (c.150 AD) with his new big instruments and he could design an original geocentric model for the solar system: he placed the Earth in the center of the universe around which the Sun and the Moon rotates and the five planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury) rotates around the Sun:

Tyge’s solar system. Font: Iowa State University

Around 1590, Tyge began to believe that he was the best astronomer in the history and he became very rude and impolite. Thus he lost the confidence of the new king Christian IV and in 1597 he closed Uraniborg and moved to Prague with all the observational instruments. Then he became the Imperial Mathematician of Emperor Rudolph II and in this new period he met his young assistant Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). Together they began a series of observations that lasted 38 years later when they ended the Rudolphine Tables (1627). These astronomical tables were compiled by Kepler 26 years after Tyge’s death in 24 October of 1601.

Location: Knutstorps Slot (map)