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Sophia Brahe helped map planets

Monday, March 11, 2002

Sophia Brahe, like her brother, the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, had a passion for the stars. Her flair for academics became apparent at an early age. By 1566 when she was 10, she already was assisting Tycho in astronomical observations. However, universities at the time did not accept women, so Sophia had to convince her parents to pay for private tutoring. Tycho also helped educate his sister.

As a teen-ager, Sophia worked with Tycho at his observatory, Uraniborg. She assisted him with computations for eclipses and comets. However, Sophia's parents forced her to marry, thereby tearing her from her work. When her husband died 10 years later, Sophia returned to chemistry, biology and horticulture. She also assisted Tycho with the astronomical observations that became the basis for modern planetary orbit predictions.

The brother and sister were among the first people to record accurate positions of the planets in the late 16th century. They compiled a catalog of their measured planetary positions from data that they had gathered over several decades. This catalog constituted the most accurate set of uniform data on the position of the planets relative to the background of stars that ever had been gathered.

Sophia also made her own career as a horticulturist, healer, historian and astronomer. Like Tycho, she became a legend in her lifetime. Even today some Danish and European universities use her chronicles as an example of exemplary methodology in research techniques. However, many of the discoveries attributed to Tycho were the result of joint work between Tycho and Sophia. Although Sophia did much of the work, she does not receive as much credit as her brother.

-- By Jennifer Cramer, intern, Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium & Observatory

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