The 400 year-old mystery and controversy about the death of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1601 appears to have been solved – he did not die from mercury poisoning and probably died of natural causes.
Initial Danish analyses of a hair from Tycho Brahe’s beard, retrieved following his disinterment by Danish and Czech scientists from the Tyn Cathedral in Prague two years ago, show he did not have dangerous levels of mercury prior to his death.
There were however small amounts of gold and silver in the beard sample, suggesting he had been taking medicine containing the three metals prior to his death.
“He cannot have died from mercury poisoning,” says the leader of the investigating team Jens Vellev of Aarhus University.
Controversy surrounding the death of one of the world’s leading 16th century scientists began over a century ago following a previous disinterment which confirmed that Tycho Brahe had mercury in his body at the time of death. A British book suggested that Brahe had been killed by his assistant astronomer Johannes Kepler who wanted full access to Brahe’s observations.
The new tests appear to clear Kepler of the deed.
Apart from determining that Brahe did not die of mercury poisoning, the Danish team also discovered that Brahe’s famous silver nose – put in place following a duelling accident – was not silver at all, but bronze.
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Edited by Julian Isherwood