Did Mercury Poisoning Cause The Death

Of Tycho Brahe?

Nuclear Microprobe Analysis (PIXE) In Lund

Was Used To Look For Hg Hair Strands


The famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), active on the island Hven between Denmark and Sweden made fundamental contributions to science through his astronomic observations.  This gave him an international reputation and he was also strongly favored by the Danish King, Fredrik II.  Tycho Brahe was not popular everywhere, and after the death of King Fredrik II, he left Hven and spent the last years of his life in Prague under protection of the Emperor Rudolph.  During a banquet he got acute problems from his prostate, but did not leave "until too late".  He got sick, suffering from fever and attacks of giddiness for many days.  He got worse and finally died on the 24th of October, as it was said, due to urinary poisoning.

New scientific facts however question the historically believed explanations of his death.  Strands from his beard, which had been stored in Prague, were analyzed (using atomic absorption analysis) for Pb, Hg and As by the Laboratory of Forensic Chemistry in Copenhagen.  Increased levels of Hg (and Pb) were found.  By courtesy of the Landskrona Arts Museum, Sweden, having an exhibition about Tycho Brahe, it was possible to obtain some hair strands to make an investigation using another technique.

The strands were transferred to the Lund Nuclear Microprobe facility at the Lund University and analyzed by PIXE.  The advantage of using a Nuclear Microprobe is that it has a multielemental capability and also a high spatial resolution.  This means, that it is not only possible to tell which elements that are present in a sample, but also where.  Several hair strands were thus investigated searching for Pb and Hg.

One of the hair strands, which also contained the hair root, exhibited very high local concentration of mercury (Hg).  The location of mercury was close to the hair root.  (Click here to see an image of the elemental distributions within the hair. [This parenthesis link wasn't operative])  Careful investigations of the Hg-distribution across the hair strand also shows that Hg is situated inside the hair.  The origin of the Hg must be the blood, from which it was rapidly built into the growing hair.  Studying the Hg concentration along the hair from root towards tip is then actually a study in time.  It can also be seen that the rise in concentration of Hg was very quick, maybe 5-10 minutes.  The same is true for the fall-off, which is in accordance with the known high metabolism of the hair roots.  (This has been verified in experiments where radioactive tracers were distributed to mice, 5-15 seconds later the radioactivity could be seen in the hair of the mice.)  Assuming that the hair was growing up to the point of death, the Hg must have been given to Tycho Brahe only one day before he died.  The Hg-exposure had a duration of less than one hour.

One can of course not from this type of data explain how or for what reason Hg occurred in the blood of Tycho Brahe.  We know that Tycho Brahe was working with elements like Hg and was trying to make gold.  It is then likely that it was present in his laboratory in various forms, so he could have used it himself as a drug in order to cure him from his pains, he might have done it by mistake, or somebody else might have poisoned him.

Jan Pallon/Wednesday July 3, 1996. (email: Jan.Pallon@pixe.lth.se).  My thanks to docent Bo Forsling at the Karolinska Institute (email: Bo.Forsling@mbb.ki.se) Stockholm for valuable discussions on the behavior of hair and hair metabolism.


The following separate posting under Johannes Kepler is obliquely suggestive regarding the option that someone else could have administered the poison....

Johannes Kepler

[In sharp contrast to his assistant Kepler, Brahe was noted for his unflinching opposition to Copernicanism, of course....]


Again, for nearly 20 pages of very rare insights into Kepler's background and work with Brahe that go way beyond being "obliquely suggestive" that Kepler could very well have killed him, you will need to go to the book The Earth Is Not Moving.  It's too much to copy the whole thing, but will be worth your time to read the 20 pages if the matter intrigues you.  (If you have further corroborating evidence along this line, I'd appreciate you sharing it at: fefinc@hemc.net.)