Friday, November 16, 2012

Not enough mercury in the beard: Tycho was not murdered

by Salman Hameed

Oh all the intrigue for nothing. Two years ago I had posted about the exhumation of Tycho Brahe's body to find out if he was murdered by either another astronomer, Kepler, or on the orders of the King. Well, it seems like the famous story of his bladder infection turned out to be correct and the cause of his death (See When are we going to see a movie about Tycho Brahe).

Here is a report on his exhumation from the BBC:

The 16th-Century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe is unlikely to have been poisoned, according to a researcher studying his remains. 
The body was exhumed in 2010 in a bid to confirm the cause of his death.
Brahe was thought to have died of a bladder infection, but a previous exhumation found traces of mercury in hair from his beard. 
However, the most recent tests have found the levels of mercury were not high enough to have killed him.
...
"There was mercury in the beard, you will also have traces of mercury if you have a beard... But the amount of mercury was as you see in people [alive today]," Dr Jens Vellev, from Aarhus University in Denmark, who is leading the investigations, told BBC News. 
Dr Vellev now thinks there was no foul play involved in Brahe's death.
"It is impossible that Tycho Brahe could have been murdered," he explained. When asked whether other poisons could have been used, Dr Vellev said: "If there were other poisons in the beard, we would have been able to see it in the analyses." 
Instead, he says, the description given by Kepler of Brahe's death at the age of 54 matches up well with the progression of a severe bladder infection. 
One widely told story about Brahe was that his bladder burst at a royal banquet when he had been too polite to leave the table and relieve himself. Accounts say he died 11 days later.

Okay - but I think we can still have a pretty good movie about Tycho. Read the full BBC story here.

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