The Story of the Two Astronomers Who Studied the Great Comet of 1577

Interesting Engineering

This story is about two astronomers who observed the same sky in different countries at the same time, and what their scientific lives became because of it.

We are not beginning with the classical words of ‘Once upon a time…’ because we know exactly what happened to both scientists. The Danish nobleman Tyco Brahe lived in the second part of the 16th Century at the same period with Takiyuddin Efendi. They both led construction of the first observatories in their countries.

Uraniborgs[Image Source: Wikipedia]

As the alchemist and astrologer of the King Frederick II, Tyco Brahe spent years watching the sky and finally asked the emperor if he can build a research institute on Hven Island in Denmark, and he got permission. He started to observe the sky, built astronomical instruments and recorded many important comets, stars, and even planets. The observatory, which he called the Uraniborg, is the start point of these two astronomers' story.

In 1577, Takiyuddin Efendi, led construction on the first observatory of Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, Galata area, similar to the construction by Tyco Brahe. The story is almost the same. He watched the sky, designed important devices by himself, which subsequently led astronomical science for hundreds of years.

Coincidence or not, they both recorded almost the same things. But in the 16th Century, there were other factors: religion, politics, and government. Their research was stuck due to these three outside forces. Each faced similar problems with authorities, but each found different ways. At least, Brahe found a way out.

Great_Comet_of_1577[Image Source: Wikipedia]

In 1577, an extraordinary comet appeared in the sky. Now, we call it the ‘Great Comet of 1577’, but for the 16th century, it was still a big deal. The comet passed very close to the earth and was seen by all over the Europe. It got big attention by religious authorities, causing rumors, and it was used as a reason for epidemic and pandemics and became the main method of blaming scientists, who were observing it.

In the Ottoman Empire, the Muslim authority called Sheyhulislam held big power, more than the Sultan Murat III, and he wasn’t happy about Takiyuddin’s observations. So, he found a way to blame him for being the reason for the Black Death. The unexplained comet at the time made leaders wary of scientists, and ultimately they believed them to be at fault for anything bad that happened.

It’s hard to understand the connection between an epidemic and a comet, but given the limited knowlege at the time, it would have been completely logical.

Brahe_notebook[Image Source: Wikipedia]

At the same time, Tycho Brahe was drawing the comet, taking notes, creating new ideas and ultimately kept working. The bells rang for him too. After many disagreements with the Danish king Christian IV, he went to Prague as an official imperial astronomer by Rudolph II. His destiny was changed at this point, in a good way, in contrast to Takiyuddin’s.

Sultan Murat III ordered one of the most important sailors he had, called Kılıch Ali Pasha, to destroy the observatory from the sea. Takiyuddin couldn't find a way to take his notebooks from the resulting fire, except maybe a few. He died in five years, alone, disappointed and sad from the loss of all of his work.

Portrait_of_Tycho_Brahe[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Tycho, became quite happy in Prague. Founded by the emperor, he built a new observatory called Benátky nad Jizerou and found an amazing talented assistant. Now, we call him Johannes Kepler, as you may know.

Brahe_kepler[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Kepler and Brahe worked together for many years in Prague until he died in 1601. As we expected, Kepler used astronomical notes, resources, data and formulas from Tycho to develop his further works, and gave us a present called the three laws of planetary motion.

We still don’t know where Takiyuddin Efendi has buried, but you can visit Tyco Brahe's grave in the Church of the Týn, in Prague, Old Town Square.

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