Tycho and Copernicus Change the World: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

May 20, 2019

Tycho Brahe's Uraniborg, built on Hven Island, which was given to him by the King o Denmark on May 23rd, 1576.

Did you know that in the 16th century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe measured hundreds of stars and created a popular catalog of the night sky without ever once using a telescope? And that Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus also never used that handy device? 

There’s a bit of history involving these two in the calendar this week, so while the gibbous Moon wanes past Jupiter and Saturn in the midnight sky, here’s what’s up:

About 450 years ago, on May 23rd, the King of Denmark gave Tycho Brahe an Island to build his Uraniborg, or Castle of Heaven, from where he could make his naked-eye observations, research the structure of the solar system, and conduct experiments in alchemy.

Tycho envisioned Uraniborg as a temple, dedicated to the muses, and named for Urania, the muse of astronomy, who had the special gift of foretelling the future.

Slightly earlier, about 475 years ago on May 24th, the Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus died. He conducted his work at a Bishop’s castle, from where he conceived the idea of planetary motion that would dramatically change existing concepts. Tycho did his work about 1/4 of a century after Copernicus ~ and neither of them used telescopes! Still, they both were able to create fascinating explanations of our planetary system:

Where Copernicus posited that all of the planets were in circular motion around the central Sun, Tycho kept to an Earth-centered system, in order to capture the beautiful philosophy of the ancients. Tycho’s system showed Sun, Moon and stars revolving around Earth, and the other five naked-eye planets revolving around the Sun.

As you go out to watch the sky this week, ask yourself how you would figure it out?

Tycho Brahe's planetary model showed Earth at the center, with Sun, Moon and stars revolving around Earth, and the other five planets revolving around the Sun.