The Amazing Life, Nose, and Twice-Exhumed Corpse of Tycho Brahe

A Danish nobleman, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), was the most famous astronomer of the 16th century. Brahe is known for making the most accurate measurements of stars and planets without the aid of a telescope, proving that comets are objects in space and not in Earth’s atmosphere, and hiring the not-yet-famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler as his assistant.

Brahe’s Nose

He allegedly challenged a fellow student to a duel with swords in a dispute over who was the better mathematician. Brahe lost the duel. The tip of his nose had been cut off. He was said to wear a silver and gold prosthetic nose upon which he would continually rub oil. His nose appeared somewhat deformed and became a trademark for many artist renderings of him.

Brahe’s Twice-Exhumed Corpse

Brahe was long thought to have died from a bladder infection caused by not excusing himself to use the bathroom during a royal banquet in October 1601. By not emptying his bladder during the banquet, his bladder supposedly ruptured.

However, scientists who opened Brahe’s grave in 1901, to mark the 300th anniversary of his death, claimed to find mercury in his remains. This began fueling rumors that the famous astronomer had been murdered by ingesting mercury. Some even accused a jealous Kepler of the crime. The murder theory lasted for over one hundred years until Brahe was exhumed from his grave for a second time.

In 2010, Tycho Brahe was exhumed from his grave again. Chemical analyses of his corpse showed that mercury poisoning did not kill the prolific 16th century astronomer. The results should dispel the rumors that Brahe was murdered when he most likely died of a burst bladder. The same explanation that was given when he died over four hundred years ago.

Additional tests also revealed that Brahe’s famous silver and gold prosthetic nose was actually made out of brass.