I’ve had a minor obsession with Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe for some time now. I decided to write a play about him, and this summer in preparation, I visited his birthplace, the island of Hven where his observatory was located, and his tomb in the Tyn Church in Prague.
Tycho’s body has exhumed in 2010 because earlier analysis of his hair had shown a high concentration of mercury, and the possibility that he might have been poisoned had triggered much speculation, and at least a couple of books. Last year, I wrote to Jens Vellev, one of the researchers on the project, and he was kind enough to write back. At that time, the new analysis was due out in May of 2012, but the research papers weren’t actually completed until last month. Now that the science is in, and the press release is out, it appears that all that mercury came from embalming chemicals used after his death.
This means that the cause of death was probably kidney failure due to a stone or other blockage. While that makes for a less dramatic ending to my play than evidence of murder would have, it does tie in with the theme I was exploring, which is about how science works, and how we know what we know.
Tycho and I. Hven, 2012.