Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Tycho and the Solar Eclipse

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 17, 2024, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The young Danish boy waited in anticipation of the big event. An eclipse of the sun was predicted for August 21. Such a prediction seemed bold and miraculous to the 14-year-old student. But when Tycho witnessed the eclipse in 1560, he saw and believed. The fact that the event had been accurately predicted based on celestial observations profoundly impacted him. It inspired him to become an astronomer. 

Tycho quickly realized that the science of astronomy could only progress if it had systematic, accurate, and, above all, nightly observations. He refined old instruments, built new ones, and spent the rest of his life assembling one of human history's most significant bodies of astronomical data.

Tycho Brahe was a friend of King Fredrik II of Denmark. The king gave Tycho an island and practically unlimited funds to design, build, and operate an observatory. Tycho made many observations of the stars. Over his lifetime, Tycho completed a star catalog providing the positions of 1000 stars. His observations, the most accurate possible before the invention of the telescope, included a comprehensive study of the solar system.

His work supported the idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun, which Copernicus had developed earlier. Tycho made his observations using a compass and a sextant. He invented many instruments that helped him with his work, which were copied and improved by other astronomers.

On November 11, 1572, he suddenly saw a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia, where no star was supposed to be. Tycho carefully observed the new star, brighter than Venus, and showed it was a fixed star beyond the Moon. This phenomenon, a supernova, was an unsettling discovery to the scientific world. They regarded the stars as perfect and unchanging. The news that a star could change as dramatically as the supernova described by Tycho and the Copernican theory that the Sun, not Earth, was the center of the universe shook their confidence in the immutable laws of Greek antiquity. The new information challenged the prevailing belief in how the universe was organized.

Tycho’s discovery of the new star in Cassiopeia in 1572 and his publication of his observations in De Nova Stella in 1573 marked his transformation from an unknown, to an astronomer with a European reputation. Tycho Brahe’s lifetime of observational data was used by his assistant, Johannes Kepler, to develop Kepler's laws of planetary motion. In his scientific works, Kepler described the orbits of planets around the Sun and helped sway scientific thought away from an Earth-centered universe.

Many people may think of scientists as stodgy academics, but Tycho Brahe’s flamboyant lifestyle would have made some of today's wild celebrities look like choirboys. His life ended with as much craziness and intrigue as the life he led.

At the age of 20, he lost part of his nose in a duel with another Danish nobleman. The duel started over a disagreement about a mathematical formula. The only solution they could devise was to try to kill each other. So the pair engaged in a drunken duel at night, in the dark. For the rest of his life, Tycho wore a prosthetic nose. His fake nose was made of copper, although he probably also had gold and silver noses for special occasions.

One day, Tycho saw a moose and instantly decided to get one. Since he was wealthy, he bought a pet moose. The moose liked him and would walk alongside him like a dog. It lived in the castle and joined in on Tycho’s parties. The moose would regularly get drunk with him. When people invited Tycho to a party, they also asked him to bring his pet moose. Unfortunately, the moose’s drinking was ultimately its undoing. It got drunk at one party and fell down a flight of stairs in the castle. That was the untimely end of the moose.

Tycho lived in a castle, keeping a rather unusual group of regular entertainers. He employed a little person called Jepp as his court jester. Tycho believed that Jepp possessed psychic powers and often consulted him on decisions. Jepp spent most dinners under the dining table.

But Tycho’s life seems almost mundane compared to his mysterious death. He died of a sudden bladder disease in 1601 while at a banquet in Prague. He was unable to urinate except in the smallest of quantities, and after eleven days of excruciating agony, he finally died. At least, that's the official story.

Before his death, Tycho wrote his own epitaph and summed up his life by saying, “He lived like a sage and died like a fool.” His final words were, "May I not seemed to have lived in vain."

Nobody likes to live their lives in vain. To live lives to the fullest, some people work hard to make money, build a successful career, and gain social status. Others focus on a happy family life. No matter what, people want to have a fulfilling life. 

Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to everyone, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

God created our lives, so only when we restore a relationship with our Creator and His intended purpose for giving us life can we find a satisfying meaning to our existence.  “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

Sometimes, we all have days when we feel that our lives are in vain. You may think that your job is mundane. However, it's an opportunity to be God’s light in your workplace. Maybe you feel that you don’t make a difference as a homemaker or caregiver.

Author Stacey Pardoe writes, “As you rock your newborn, you are establishing a secure attachment that will be a foundation of strength for the rest of this little one’s life. You embody God’s love as you tend to an elderly loved one, a noisy room of preschoolers, or a cantankerous client. Additionally, your hidden work is shaping your heart. God is testing your faithfulness in the darkness of obscurity.  He is examining your willingness to serve others without applause.”

Gentle Reader, “We don’t know the results of our efforts for the Lord, but in faith, we can trust that obedience is never in vain. In other words, there is no real failure, properly understood, when the Lord is on our side. Our labor for Him will never come up empty.” - Dr. Bradley Baurain 

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