Sophia Brahe

Sophia Brahe
Credit: Saddhiyama
Sophia Brahe (1556 – 1643)

Sophia was born in Knudsturp, Denmark, her older brother was the famous astronomer, Tycho Brahe. They belonged to the high nobility and their family did not support their interest in astronomy; it was not the sort of thing noble people did! However, when Thyco was sent to the University of Copenhagen he managed to spend his time on astronomy and not the subjects he was meant to study.

Tycho encouraged Sophia to study and taught her horticulture and chemistry but he told her not to study astronomy. Not to be put off, Sophia studied on her own and had Latin books translated with her own money so that she could study them. Tycho was very proud that Sophia had learnt astronomy on her own and when she was a young teenager she started helping him with his astronomical observations and the work that became the basis for modern planetary orbit predictions. On 11 November 1572, when Sophia was 16, she helped with the observations that let to them discovering a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia. Tycho called it ”Nova Stella”. Today we know that the new star was a supernova.

Sophia married Otto Thott in 1576 and had one son. When Otto died Sophia looked after property until her son was old enough to take over. During this time she continued to study and often visited her brother on the island Ven which Tycho had been given by the King of Denmark and where he had built two castles with observatories. Together they collected data over several decades and produced the most accurate measurements of the positions of the planets at that time.

Sophia married again in 1602. Her husband Erik Lange was obsessed with “Alchemy”, trying to turn other metals into gold and spent all of Sophia’s money as well as his own trying to achieve this and they lived in extreme poverty. In 1616, after Erik died, she moved back to Denmark, where she was probably supported by her son, and continued her studies in science and writing up the genealogy of Danish noble families.

Sophia’s first major works, 900 pages long, was published in 1626 and is still considered a significant source of information on the early history of Danish nobility. Today, Sophia is regarded as one of Denmark’s and Scandinavia’s first female researchers and writers.