Collaboration is important in scientific research and development. The coming together of two or more scientific minds helps to strengthen the research process by providing cross-fertilized ideas. This can, in turn, make the research process faster and more accurate.
However, it is not always easy for scientists to work together. Various challenges exist, from conflicting personalities and research styles to mistrust, the need to be always right (very common among scientists), disinterest in learning from others, and so on.
It is thus surprising that two of the most influential scientists who helped shaped the scientific revolution – Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler – were able to come together (despite their conflicting personalities) and make huge strides in the advancement of science. Here, we are going to look at the different personalities of this odd couple of astronomy and how they came together to contribute to the scientific community.
A Look at Tycho Brahe’s Life
Tycho Brahe (http://galileo.rice.edu/sci/brahe.html) is one of the most influential early scientists, whose observations in the field of astronomy. He was born on 14th December 1546 to a Danish noble family. However, he chose to become a scientist rather than sit at the Danish Royal Court. His nobility enabled him to receive a great education. He was able to attend the Copenhagen and Leipzig universities in the then Denmark. He also traveled a lot through Europe, where he attended Wittenberg, Base, and Rostock universities.
During his travels, he developed an interest in astronomy and acquired several astronomical instruments to observe the solar system. His observation led him to realize that the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems (https://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/groundup/lesson/basics/g37/) – the two cosmos theory of the time – were inaccurate. As a result, he developed a desire to rigorously observe the solar system using the best instruments available. He realized this dream after he was granted the Island of Hven as an Estate, where he built Uraniborg, an early science research institute. Here, he also built several astronomical instruments, which he used to observe the planets and collect astronomical data. The data would later become vital to scientific research and discoveries.
Tycho Brahe’s Odd Character
Despite being a brilliant astronomer, Tyco was a very odd character. He had a reputation for indulging in liquor and not backing down in arguments. One such incident led him to lose a large portion of his nose in a drunken duel. As a result, he wore a nose that was made of gold, and attached using wax. Tycho also had a reputation of being quite cruel to the residents of his estate. He also had expensive tastes, and he was famous for the big banquets he used to host.
Johannes Kepler Life
Johannes Kepler, on the other hand, was anything but from a noble family. Born in Germany in 1571, he was a devout Christian and studied theology and philosophy and the University of Tubingen. However, he developed an interest in astronomy, although he incorporated his religious beliefs and reasoning into his work. Unlike Tycho, Kepler favored the Copernican system, though he would later develop a different theory – the Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler%27s_laws_of_planetary_motion).
Johannes Kepler’s Odd Character
However, just like Tycho, Kepler was an odd character. He was of a poor upbringing – his mother was an inn keeper’s daughter and his father a mercenary. He suffered from medical conditions, including smallpox at a young age and really bad haemorrhoids that forced him to work while standing up. He also wrote a fictional account of a trip to the moon (considered the first science fiction account).
The exaggeration in this account led his mother to be tried for witchcraft. On top of that, Kepler became the emperor’s chief astrologer and earned a living by reading horoscopes for the rich, although it is claimed by many that he didn’t even believe in astrology.
More information about Johannes Kepler, including his early life, scientific contributions, and his weird character can be found on the definitive Kepler website, created by Martin Wilson.
The Coming Together of the Two Scientific Minds
Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler could not be more different. Tycho was of nobility and used to extravagance, while Kepler was from a poor family and had to earn a living doing something he did not believe in. Tycho was also rude, arrogant and mean. Kepler also had an abrasive personality – evidenced by the fact that he got his mother tried for witchcraft, and was even exiled from Austria for his antagonistic religious beliefs.
However, both scientists came together and collaborated in their astronomical observations and research. They met in Prague when Tycho was exiled from Denmark after losing favor with the king, and after Kepler was kicked out of Austria. Kepler became Tycho’s assistant and they worked together to create a new star catalog based on Tycho’s astronomical observation data – the Rudolphine_Tables.
Their working relationship was, however, anything but smooth. While Tycho believed that the Copernican and Ptolemaic were inaccurate, Kepler was a believer of the Copernican system. Kepler also disapproved of Tycho’s extravagant lifestyle, especially his banquets where he entertained guests using a dwarf and elk (read about them at https://boingboing.net/2011/02/17/tycho-brahes-dwarf-a.html). On top of that, Tycho was said to be somewhat self-centred and overprotective of his work, which made working together harder.
Nonetheless, both scientists found a commonality in their love for astronomy. Tycho was also skilled at astronomical observations and was able to build great instruments for observing. Kepler, on the other hand, was creative and very imaginative, and thus very skilled at theorizing. As a result, they were able to collaborate quite efficiently, even though their pairing was rather odd.
Tycho Brahe’s Death and Kepler’s Continued Research
In 1601, Tycho Brahe died, ending their collaboration. His death, just like most of his life was rather strange; he died of a bladder infection. The infection is believed to have been caused by the refusal to use the toilet during a banquet. His death, however, was a blessing in disguise to Kepler, and later to the scientific community. He took advantage of the confusion to get hold of Tycho’s astronomical data.
Using the data, he came up with Kepler’s law of planetary motion, the three scientific laws that explain the movement of planets around the sun. These laws are helped to advance scientific research in the field of astronomy further than it had ever been done before.
They also became quite instrumental in the discovery of universal gravitation by Isaac Newton. On top of that, they are used in modern scientific research and development, especially in the motion of artificial satellites in orbit. A number of questions remain about this odd couple: was it God’s plan to bring these two characters together, would the motions of the planets be uncovered without their work and are the claims that Kepler murdered Tycho based in fact or fiction?
Perhaps the answers to these questions will never be known, despite the results of the exhumation of Tycho’s body pointing to an awkwardly high concentration of mercury in his body. Did Kepler do the dirty? You tell us…