Tycho and Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership That Forever
- 352 pages
- Tycho and Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership That Forever Changed Our Understanding of the Heavens
- Kitty Ferguson
- 12 July 2017 Kitty Ferguson
A dual biography to remind me how much I love observing stars and constellations Tycho and Kepler were astronomers that I was reasonably familiar with, but to get into their lives and the history around them was quite fascinating The battles between religion science, Catholics Protestants Calvinists, and then science itself.I m forever reminded how easily it is to forget different descriptions of astronomy such as opposition, retrograde, perihelion, and aphelion I need to make flashcards and A dual biography to remind me how much I love observing stars and constellations Tycho and Kepler were astronomers that I was reasonably familiar with, but to get into their lives and the history around them was quite fascinating The battles between religion science, Catholics Protestants Calvinists, and then science itself.I m forever reminded how easily it is to forget different descriptions of astronomy such as opposition, retrograde, perihelion, and aphelion I need to make flashcards and see what I can do to rectify this situation.What I especially identify with is that both Tycho and Kepler discovered type I supernovas There have been four in recent centuries 1006, 1572 Tycho s , 1604 Kepler s , and 1987 The first three being before telescopes indicates to me that any future super novae might first be detected by other means than just eyesight, which means I m SOL in spotting my own.One thing, to my mind this book did not get into, and perhaps it is a bigger rabbit hole and math than the author intended is Kepler s laws of planetary motion Another item to study.Finally, Kepler is given credit by some to having written the first science fiction story SOMNIUM another item to seek out.Either way, this dual biography is well worth your time On his deathbed in , the Danish nobleman and greatest naked eye astronomer, Tycho Brahe, begged his young colleague, Johannes Kepler, Let me not seem to have lived in vain For than thirty years mostly in his native Denmark and then in Prague under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II Tycho had meticulously observed the movements of the planets and the positions of the stars From these observations he developed his Tychonic system of the universe a highly original, if incorrect, scheme that attempted to reconcile the ancient belief that the Earth stood still with Nicolaus Copernicus s revolutionary rearrangement of the solar system some fifty years earlier Tycho knew that Kepler, the brilliant young mathematician he had engaged to interpret his findings, believed in Copernicus s arrangement, in which all the planets circled the Sun and he was afraid his system the product of a lifetime of effort to explain how the universe worked would be abandonedIn point of fact, it was From his study of Tycho s observations came Kepler s stunning three Laws of Planetary Motion ever since the cornerstone of cosmology and our understanding of the heavens Yet, as Kitty Ferguson reveals, neither of these giant figures would have his reputation today without the other The story of how their lives and talents were fatefully intertwined is one of the memorable sagas in the long history of scienceSet in a singularly turbulent and colorful era in European history, at the turning point when medieval gave way to modern, Tycho Kepler is both a highly original dual biography and a masterful recreation of how science advances From Tycho s fabulous Uraniborg Observatory on an island off the Danish coast to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II from the religious conflict of the Thirty Years War that rocked all of Europe to Kepler s extraordinary leaps of understanding, Ferguson recounts a fascinating interplay of science and religion, politics and personality Her insights recolor the established characters of Tycho and Kepler, and her book opens a rich window onto our place in the universe This is a good book I enjoyed the early parts about Tycho Brahe s lifethan the later parts about Kepler, but that s mainly because I ve already read two biographies, two novels, and a metric ton of academic articles about Kepler, while much of the information about Tycho, in particular the story of his early life and choices, was novel to me.Seeing their biographies placed side by side, two things really struck me 1 it s really surprising how relatively little we know about Tycho Brahe This is a good book I enjoyed the early parts about Tycho Brahe s lifethan the later parts about Kepler, but that s mainly because I ve already read two biographies, two novels, and a metric ton of academic articles about Kepler, while much of the information about Tycho, in particular the story of his early life and choices, was novel to me.Seeing their biographies placed side by side, two things really struck me 1 it s really surprising how relatively little we know about Tycho Brahe s early life compared to what we know about Kepler s, especially given Tycho s farprivileged background and at least comparable humanist orientation and ego You get the impression Ferguson is casting around for details about Brahe that might give us insight into his personality and motivations, while picking and choosing among the enormous amount of Kepler lore And 2 though it s too easy to see their symbiotic relationship as a matter of fate, Tycho really did take a surprising amount of crap, with remarkable patience, from Kepler during their two years of acquaintance True, Kepler was writing against Tycho s intellectual enemy Ursus whom Ferguson casts as the villain as the piece, possibly unfairly, since a lot of scholars dispute the claim that Ursus plagiarized Tycho and was therefore useful But still it s hard to totally shun the romantic idea that Tycho saw his legacy written in Kepler, and did what he had to do to make sure the relationship worked.Throughout, Ferguson makes a good trade off between biography and science and focuses in on the interesting bits of the latter, though she never gets around to explaining Kepler s physical theory of the ellipse the planets have solid non rotating magnetic cores that are alternatively attracted and repelled by the sun s monopole Though I m not 100% sure, I think she also misstates Kepler s theory of why the virtue motrix solar moving force diminishes in inverse linear rather than inverse square proportion from the sun because it is thrown off the rotating sun on a circle, and the force dissipates as the circumference increases relative to the radius, linearly and she leaves off the quite cool way Kepler ends up using his his near miss on the inverse square law to prove the 3 2 rule But this is deep in the weeds stuff More generally, Ferguson does a very good job explaining various technical concepts in astronomy, some of which I didn t previously understand, and illuminating just how novel and ingenious were Tycho s instruments.A final semi complaint I have is that Ferguson adopts the standard view of Kepler as a tragic figure and fills the last chapters with special pleading about what an unrecognized genius he was and is But this always strikes me as a strange take on a man who rode a then relatively unorthodox astronomical theory physical Copernicanism to the best and most sought after patronage position in Europe at the age of 29 and has been a household name ever since Kepler enjoyed enormous intellectual and religious freedom throughout his life in comparison to a figure like Galileo who was highly intellectually constrained by the social and religious institutions in which he worked, Kepler always was able to say and writeor less what he wanted and get it printed True, his heterodoxy left him unchurched and extremely dependent on his patrons who consequently didn t have to pay him much, and his death at 58 less than a year before his successful prediction of a Mercury transit and less than a decade before he could have read Gassendi and Descartes seems arbitrary and sad But, then, Decartes death also seems arbitrary and sad It was a difficult, if surely exciting, time to be alive.Tycho, of course, also has some genuine claim to tragedy Forced from his homeland by run of the mill feudal politics and ending up what was a pioneering life the nobleman as scholar as informal court astrologer to the eccentric Emperor Rudoloph, Tycho demonstrated both the importance and the limits of social boundary pushing in the sixteenth century He also seems to have recognized during his final days that he would not be able to shape the future course of science as he had surely hoped with his system of the world But in the early, fascinating chapters of her book, Ferguson shows us young Tycho as a Renaissance Man choosing and living the life of the mind in a Denmark that was both humanist and feudal It s almost impossible not to admire the man who bucked convention and turned his enormous hereditary wealth and privilege toward the furthering of human knowledge, even if the relatively limited biographical andimportantly autobiographical details of Tycho s life make him somewhatof an enigma than his Copernican colleague This book should have been called The Story of Tycho Brahe featuring Kepler Kepler plays kind of a bit part in this story Of course, I can t really argue much with that choice, as Tycho s life was farinteresting, even if Kepler s was in many waystragic The addition of Kepler s story though seemed like an interruption or an addition that didn t quite fit the tone of the rest of the book The first 3 4ths of the book dealt with Tycho s life, with glimpses of Kepler, and mainly foc This book should have been called The Story of Tycho Brahe featuring Kepler Kepler plays kind of a bit part in this story Of course, I can t really argue much with that choice, as Tycho s life was farinteresting, even if Kepler s was in many waystragic The addition of Kepler s story though seemed like an interruption or an addition that didn t quite fit the tone of the rest of the book The first 3 4ths of the book dealt with Tycho s life, with glimpses of Kepler, and mainly focusing on biography rather than the specifics of the science although it did get into this to some extent The final 1 4th of the book focusedon Kepler, but the biography to science ratio was reversed It discussed Kepler s work muchthan his life, and after Tycho s death, Tycho was completely erased from the story, which was a bit odd Overall, I think this was a decently constructed biography of Tycho Brahe with a miniature overview of Kepler s life and work appended to it Definitely worth checking out for anyone interested in the history of astronomy Es una historia detallada, cronol gica y exhaustiva sobre la historia de estos dos personajes, con especial foco en los accidentes que les llevaron a colaborar y que, en ltimo t rmino, dieron lugar a las leyes de Kepler Si bien, parece que la autora pone m s foco en Tycho que en Kepler aunque s lo sea en volumen de p ginas Un buen libro, en definitiva, sin exclamaciones Bien escrito, bien documentado, no especialmente revelador, pero tampoco demasiado denso. For anyone with an interest in the development of astronomy from Ptolemy and Copernicus to Brahe, Kepler and Galileo, needs this book in their life Kitty Ferguson expertly navigates the outrageously complex lives of some of the most influential minds in science and explains evolving theories that shaped how we see the universe What a wonderful book. Tycho Brahe and Johann Kepler, together with Copernicus and Galileo, founded modern astronomy An unusual partnership Danish nobleman and poor scholar, yet both obsessed with the heavens That was the time when casting horoscopes was a still a major duty of astronomers and when alchemy a sideline of Tycho, an obsession of his kinsman Erik Lange drew just as much attention By the late 1500s a great change had begun Copernicus had proposed his heliocentric theory, and before church dogma ent Tycho Brahe and Johann Kepler, together with Copernicus and Galileo, founded modern astronomy An unusual partnership Danish nobleman and poor scholar, yet both obsessed with the heavens That was the time when casting horoscopes was a still a major duty of astronomers and when alchemy a sideline of Tycho, an obsession of his kinsman Erik Lange drew just as much attention By the late 1500s a great change had begun Copernicus had proposed his heliocentric theory, and before church dogma entered the fray, it was viewed seriously, even if not generally accepted But the telescope, which after 1609 drew the public to the wonders of the sky, had not yet appeared Kitty Ferguson has written a delightful and eminently readable book around these two very different personalities Meant for the general reader, it describes in an easy and concise style the science and history of an era very different from ours That was when nobility was all powerful, when the king of Denmark could take an island of freeholders and make it Tycho s personal domain, leaving its residents no voice in the matter Religious intolerance was widespread indeed, events were moving towards the 30 years war, Europe s most destructive religious fight, mirrored by the civil war in Britain Kepler was forced out of Graz, among all other employees of Protestant colleges in town, after the ruling archduke decreed they must leave the city by nightfall, that same day It was also an era when Kepler s mother was arrested for witchcraft, when most of his numerous children died in childhood, and when Tycho s marriage was regarded as a second rate slegfred union because his chosen wife was not from the nobility And yet, there was also science The Ptolemaic system, by which sun, moon, planets and stars all revolved around the Earth, was still the accepted foundation of astronomy It was a cumbersome model, where effects now known to arise from the motion of Earth were represented by epicycles, secondary orbits traced by planets on top of their primary ones Further corrections were still needed, so centers of planetary orbits were displaced, and astronomers assumed ad hoc that their orbital progress was constant, not as seen from that center but as viewed from some different equant point Even with the inaccurate observations of the time, this still left discrepancies All models assumed circular orbits, including the sun centered model of Copernicus, which also suffered from discrepancies From his teenage years Tycho was fascinated by astronomy While his peers pursued rank and power in the service of the king, he himself resolved to devote his life and energy toaccurate observations of the stars, perhaps good enough to provide a real test In that early era it was often hard to predict what was feasible and what was not In 1572 a new, very bright star appeared, not too far from the northern pole star it is still known as Tycho s supernova and its remnants were recently studied by the orbiting Chandra X ray telescope Was it closer than the Moon or was itdistant, in a region where Aristotle proclaimed no changes ever occurred The rotation of the Earth shifts an observer several thousands of kilometers in a single observing night, yet Tycho s accurate observations failed to detect any corresponding shift of the new star relative to its neighbors He concluded it wasdistant than the moon, and also found the same held for a comet Trivial conclusions to us, but novel ones at his time Tycho later tried to use the same method to estimate the distance to Mars, which he knew was the closest outer planet Unaware that because of the great distance, any shift was too small for the unaided eye to discern, he kept seeking its value, at long last convincing himself he had actually found it He was also the first to evaluate the shift of the positions of stars near the horizon, caused by light refraction in the atmosphere However, Tycho s preoccupation with astronomy also made him neglect his political position It eroded so much that he felt it wiser to exile himself to Prague a comfortable exile, to be sure, an honored scholar among the nobility Unlike Tycho, Kepler grew up in near poverty, with a father who was mostly absent and who ended abandoning his family altogether Younger than Tycho by 25 years, he displayed early in life a sharp mind, and was helped to a good education by Germany s Lutheran institutions He ended up teaching in one of them in Graz, Austria Where Tycho was a supreme experimenter and socially adept, Kepler was deeply religious, inclined to mysticism and speculation, but also skilled in the mathematics of his day That skill was helped by his enormous tenacity, grabbing hold of problems like a bulldog and not letting go In our age of space exploration, Tycho may well have become a leader of glamorous space missions with NASA, politically powerful and generously funded Kepler might have been the talented theorist laboring in relative obscurity, sifting the data returned by those missions and extracting their nuggets of discovery Though the two might not have admitted it, the work of each would have been essential to the success of the other Something like that certainly happened in their actual encounter, in what Ferguson dubbed title of chapter 17 a dysfunctional collaboration Each had what the other lacked Tycho knew that his accurate observations held the key to understanding how the planets moved especially Mars but he also realized that Kepler was the only one around him sharp enough to solve the puzzle Yet he had misgivings Kepler was a relative latecomer, less trusted than Tycho s longtime assistants Longomontanus and Tengnagel Further, Kepler believed in the Copernican model, while Tycho had devised his own Tychonic system, in which the planets orbited the Sun, but the Sun orbited Earth Tycho felt quite possessive over that idea and bitterly defended his claim to it Yet when he painfully died in 1601, he was well aware that Kepler would probably use his data to promote the Copernican view Let me not have died in vain he pleaded on his deathbed History is full of ironies Kepler indeed used Tycho s data to support Copernicus, but by doing so, he ensured Tycho s immortality Had the two failed to meet and collaborate, the precision of Tycho s observations supreme in his days would have soon been surpassed by telescopic instruments Someone else would then have used telescopes to decode the motions of the planets, and Tycho s work would have become a forgotten footnote This is a great story, told with skill and verve Kathy Ferguson is not the first to do so, and those seeking finer details e.g of Kepler s math may want to look elsewhere, but her book is set at just the right level not too technical for lay readers, not too shallow for science savvy ones, not too long nor too brief Like Goldilock s porridge, it is just right, and the interplay of religion and politics, academic battles and a gallery of unusual characters, all these have their places too As do occasional tidbits who would have suspected that the names of Rosencranz and Guildenstern, the doomed courtiers in Shakespeare s Hamlet and in Tom Stoppard s play were patterned after those of two of Tycho s kinsmen Intento mantener mis lecturas de leisure bastante separadas de mis lecturas profesionales, por lo que en general no leo libros sobre astronom a o f sica Por lo dem s los que he intentado leer han sido un latazo.M s all de lo que la cultura general nos dice que hay que saber de Brahe a saber, el ltimo gran astr nomo que no us telescopios, produciendo las observaciones m s precisas en su poca y Kepler el descubridor de las leyes de movimiento planetario, y para los ubernerds, el autor del Intento mantener mis lecturas de leisure bastante separadas de mis lecturas profesionales, por lo que en general no leo libros sobre astronom a o f sica Por lo dem s los que he intentado leer han sido un latazo.M s all de lo que la cultura general nos dice que hay que saber de Brahe a saber, el ltimo gran astr nomo que no us telescopios, produciendo las observaciones m s precisas en su poca y Kepler el descubridor de las leyes de movimiento planetario, y para los ubernerds, el autor del primer relato sci fi este libro ilumina muchos razones de por qu ambos fueron incre blemente revolucionarios Tycho Brahe bas su carrera en hacer la observaci n astron mica lo m s precisa posible, y en generar explicaciones para la din mica celeste a partir de stas y no de argumentaciones filos ficas, contraviniendo siglos de escol stica basada en el pensamiento aristot lico Johannes Kepler por su parte dio un salto fundamental al intentar explicar las causas f sicas de los movimientos planetarios m s que conformarse con su simple descripci n Su modo de trabajar usando la matem tica para explicar las observaciones de Tycho, formulando modelos que pudiesen generalizar estas observaciones conforman b sicamente el mismo patr n de lo que consideramos como ciencia hoy.A pesar de que sus vidas no pudieron ser m s distintas Brahe, arist crata que se codeaba con reyes Kepler, m s de bien de clase media baja, padre alcoh lico, perseguido toda su vida por sus creencias religiosas, siete hijos muertos , sus historias muestran justamente que la ciencia no es propiedad de nadie, sino de aquellos con el fuego suficiente para llevar el pensamiento hasta el l mite.Finalmente, junto con el nacimiento de la ciencia moderna, las historias de Brahe y Kepler muestran el nacimiento de los problemas y vicios de la ciencia las desconfianzas y descalificaciones entre cient ficos, los plagios, los dramas para conseguir financiamiento, los problemas para publicar, la importancia del networking, etc.La humanidad les estar por siempre agradecida a estos dos titanes Skybound, my mind Earthbound, my body rest del epitafio escrito por el mismo Kepler As some of the other reviewers said, this book is mainly about Tycho Brahe, with Kepler playing asupporting role That s fine by me since Tycho is one of the most fascinating historical characters I can think of The book was a real page turner Ferguson is a great writer I really recommend this book for anyone wanting a highly readable biography Of tycho and Kepler It is less strong in terms of history of science But great portraits of two fascinating historical characters. Quick notes great on Brahe s personal life especially how he took interesting decisions to maintain a lifestyle deemed very unusual for a person of his status and background In contrast, a little too technical on Kepler s side which, of course, does not deter me as professional Astronomer, but also adds little to what I did not already know.Her writing style is wonderful keeping it interesting at each turn, without becoming either too flamboyant or too technical.