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Danish astronomer argues for a changing cosmos.

HVEN HVEN Halo Video Exchange Network , Denmark, January 1578 -- Heavens! Could the teachings of Aristotle and other scholars all be wrong?

This placid island seems an unlikely place from which to challenge the prevailing view of the universe. But that's just what Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe Tycho Brahe: see Brahe, Tycho.  has done. Two of his recent discoveries promise to shatter centuries of learned pronouncements that the cosmos is eternal and immutable IMMUTABLE. What cannot be removed, what is unchangeable. The laws of God being perfect, are immutable, but no human law can be so considered. . The findings suggest instead that chaos, turmoil, and change rule the universe.

Just 6 years ago, Tycho observed that stars can suddenly appear in the sky, blazing brighter than the planet Venus at its most luminous, and then fade from view. Now, he declares that the fuzzy, highly unstable objects known as comets reside in a region far beyond the moon, a region of the heavens thought to be unwavering and immutable.

The findings have all of Europe agog.

Tycho's odyssey began on the evening of Nov. 11, 1572. Walking back to his alchemy laboratory at Herrevad Abbey Herrevad Abbey is an abbey near Ljungbyhed, Scania, in the south of Sweden. It is notable as the site of Tycho Brahe's discovery of the supernova SN 1572 in Cassiopeia and as the birthplace of Swedish paper production. , near Copenhagen, the 26-year-old astronomer saw a brilliant white object that outshone Venus. Several of his servants and peasants confirmed his observations, he reported at the time.

The object, slightly northwest of the constellation Cassiopeia, remained for 18 months in a patch of sky where no star had ever been seen before. At times, it was so bright that observers could view it in broad daylight. It also changed from white to red to leaden gray.

Tycho and other astronomers scrambled to determine whether the new object moved across the sky. Any discernible motion would indicate the point-like object was not a star but an object nearer than the moon, within the so-called sublunary sphere The sublunary sphere is a concept derived from Greek astronomy. It is the region of the cosmos from the Earth to the Moon, consisting of the four classical elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Beginning with the Moon, up to the limits of the universe, everything is made of aether. . If so, the theories of Aristotle, Plato, and others who extoll the purity of the heavens could still hold.

The young astronomer had just built a new version of a sextant sextant, instrument for measuring the altitude of the sun or another celestial body; such measurements can then be used to determine the observer's geographical position or for other navigational, surveying, or astronomical applications. , a compass-shaped device that accurately measures the latitude and longitude latitude and longitude

Coordinate system by which the position or location of any place on the Earth's surface can be determined and described. Latitude is a measurement of location north or south of the Equator.
 of distant objects. Tycho's sextant, which features 5.5-feet-long arms joined by a brass hinge, is unsurpassed in detecting the subtle movement of distant objects, he says. When he applied the device to the bright apparition apparition, spiritualistic manifestation of a person or object in which a form not actually present is seen with such intensity that belief in its reality is created. , he reports in his book De Stella Nova, it stood stock-still and so must be a star.

The startling star·tle  
v. star·tled, star·tling, star·tles
1. To cause to make a quick involuntary movement or start.

2. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. See Synonyms at frighten.
 discovery so intrigued King Frederick of Denmark that he bequeathed this island to Tycho for a new observatory. Still, the astronomer's finding cannot alone refute centuries of scholarly thought. A new study reported by Tycho just a few days ago, however, could force scientists to revise their long-held beliefs.

The newest drama began last November while Tycho was catching fish at dusk in one of his island's many ponds. He noticed what appeared to be a bright star in the western sky. As the evening grew darker, however, he saw that the object had a reddish tail, the telltale signature of a comet.

After sketching the comet, Tycho recorded its distance from two nearby stars in order to determine its position. Over the next few weeks, he diligently tracked the fading comet's motion and found that it has no measurable parallax--the extra motion of nearby objects due to Earth's movement through the heavens.

Indeed, in a report to the king, Tycho calculates that the comet must lie farther away than 230 times the radius of Earth, or more than four times the distance to the moon. There can be no doubt that the comet is a bona fide [Latin, In good faith.] Honest; genuine; actual; authentic; acting without the intention of defrauding.

A bona fide purchaser is one who purchases property for a valuable consideration that is inducement for entering into a contract and without suspicion of being
 celestial body, beyond the sublunary sphere, and thus in direct conflict with the teachings of the ancients, Tycho says.

The king and others seem swayed by Tycho's careful measurements. Whether this comet of 1577 turns out to be an evil omen or a harbinger of good tidings remains to be seen, but it may spark a revolution in the way people view the cosmos.
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Author:Cowen, R.
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 18, 1999
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