It is surprisingly difficult to find a flattering image of Tycho Brahe.
Honestly. Do me a favor and do a Google image search for the guy. It’ll come up with all sorts of disfigured images, mostly because his nose got messed up in a sword fight…
I know what you’re thinking. A classical astronomer in a sword fight? Suddenly these people seem less like heroes of modern-day science and more like human beings with lives of their own.
Tycho certainly fits the trend. He’s known for being quite the unpopular sort. Bad-tempered and vain, there were few who respected him for more than just his astronomical accomplishments—and even those were few.
Nicolaus Copernicus lived from 1473-1543, a time when rebellion against the Church was at its height. And unfortunately for the astronomy of the time, it had gotten inextricably tied up with Christian teachings.
In that time, heaven and hell weren’t just parts of our personal religions and beliefs—the Church held some of the highest authority over the land, and questioning heaven and hell just wasn’t done.
The way astronomers of the time pictured the universe fell right in sync with the heaven and hell geometry—Earth was the imperfect center of the universe, with hell nested deep below. Heaven was a place of perfection, and it was where all the heavenly bodies—the moon, sun, planets and stars—all moved.
Problem was, the Ptolemaic model of the universe really couldn’t explain detailed observations. It used epicycles to explain why the planets moved backwards sometimes. And no matter what people tried, they couldn’t get it to be accurate…
But then along came Copernicus, who would be the first to challenge the Ptolemaic universe and be believed.
We see them all the time. When we look up at the moon in the sky, we’re bound to notice that it looks just a little bit different from the last time we saw it. It changes from a slivery crescent to a full circle, and then wanes back to the crescent phase again.
The moon has behaved the same way in the sky for billions of years, ever since a Mars-sized space rock collided with the newborn Earth and the debris collected into our own personal satellite.
For that long, the moon has watched over us and captivated scientists and amateur skywatchers alike.
But what are the secrets behind its monthly changes?