16th Century Danish Astronomer Tycho Brahe Exhumed

Image of Tycho Brahe from the University of Texas at Austin Department of Astronomy image collection

This is another one of those stories that comes along every so often that allows me to geek out from both the history and science perspective (and in this case, my actual career science field - astronomy!). Tycho is one of those interesting characters of science that seems to cause endless fascination, so I'm not surprised to see this. And yes, he's the one who famously had a metal replacement nose after losing the flesh one in a duel!

From The BBC:
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe exhumed to solve mystery

Tycho Brahe was a Danish nobleman who served as royal mathematician to the Bohemian Emperor Rudolf II.

He was thought to have died of a bladder infection, but a previous exhumation found traces of mercury in his hair.

A team of Danish and Czech scientists hope to solve the mystery by analysing bone, hair and clothing samples.

Tycho was born Tyge Ottesen Brahe in 1546 in Scania, which at the time was a Danish province, and studied astronomy at the University of Copenhagen, as well as German academic institutions.

He catalogued more than 1,000 new stars and his stellar and planetary observations helped lay the foundations of early modern astronomy.

Professor Jens Vellev, from Aarhus University, is leading the team of scientists and archaeologists which opened the tomb in Tyn Church on Monday.

He says he hopes to get better samples of hair and bones than were taken in 1901.

The use of the latest technology to test the samples may also help shed more light on the mystery of the astronomer's death, although Professor Vellev is not promising anything.

"Perhaps, we will be able to come close to an answer, but I don't think we will get a final answer to that question," he said.

The scientists also hope to determine what kind of metal Brahe's prosthesis was made of - it was commonly believed to have been gold and silver, but others suggested it might have contained copper.

Full article

More articles (all of the articles have interesting pictures):
NPR: Danish Astronomer's Remains Exhumed In Prague
Scientific American: Was Tycho Brahe poisoned? 16th-century astronomer exhumed--again

And finally, a bunch of photos and some video from the research are available on the Opening of Tycho Brahe's Tomb pages from Aarhus University

Five years!

I just remembered that today is the fifth anniversary of this blog! Yay!


I first caught wind of the awesomeness that is W00tstock through following Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage on Twitter (@wilw and @donttrythis) and kept hoping they would find their way to Austin eventually. I would say that Austin can hold its own as a very geeky city and was deserving of this celebration of all things geek. It took a year, but they finally made it! I was disappointed that Wil couldn't be here (he's been filming The Big Bang Theory and Eureka - and since I love those shows, I forgive him), but boy did Austin hit the jackpot with our guest 'Wil Wheaton' - we had Neil Gaiman! Although I still haven't read the Sandman comics, I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman's for a while now. I've listened to several of his works on audiobooks, including several that he has read himself. Having an author read their own works is sometimes hit-or-miss, but Neil Gaiman is a wonderful reader so getting to hear him read a couple of short stories live was a real treat!

I also got a picture of him wearing a monkey hat. Yeah, a monkey hat (you had to be there to really understand...):

(click for a larger version and to see the amazing number of views the photo has had since Neil retweeted me when I posted it to Twitter - major fangirl geek out moment!!)

And a short video of Neil giving an unenthusiastic pirate "Arr" with the monkey hat on - again, you had to be there to understand (including why he was pretending to be very put out to have to wear the hat and say "Arr"):

And here's my full set of photos on Flickr

Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and I'm pretty sure I haven't laughed that hard and that long for quite a while! And it was sure a much better way to spend election night than sitting at home hearing the results come in.

RLM watermelon drop 2010

This year I was involved in the planning of the watermelon drop, so I had a good opportunity to figure out how I wanted to film it. I decided for the "top-down view" this time:

Help preserve the "Gone With the Wind" costumes

Related to my post below: The Harry Ransom Center has started a campaign to raise money to help preserve the five costumes from "Gone With the Wind" in their collection, including the Green Curtain Dress pictured above. They are planning an exhibition for 2014 to mark the 75th anniversary of the movie that I'm already looking forward to! I donated $10 to the fund since I would love to be able to see the original costumes as part of the exhibit.

Update August 30: They reached the goal in three weeks! They have a cool map of where all the donations came from - my $10 is part of the 174 in Texas. :)

Science Picture of the Week #98

The telescope at Painter Hall on the University of Texas campus, with the 2005 Football National Championship "1"

Making Movies

A week or so ago I finally made it over to the Harry Ransom Center's Making Movies exhibition. It's wonderful that I can see such great things on my lunch break by just walking to the other side of campus!

The HRC has had the Gone With the Wind collection for a long time and has acquired many other movie-related collections over the years, and a few years ago Robert De Niro gave the library a lot of items from his movie making-career. The exhibition featured a lot of items from their collection ranging from early scripts, to costumes, to a pamphlet from Mount Rushmore used as research for North by Northwest.

I only had my iPhone to take pictures, so I just grabbed a couple of shots of costumes. Below on the left is a dress worn my one of my favorite actresses, Deborah Kerr, in one of her signature roles - An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant (pretty much my all-time favorite actor). And on the right, the infamous "Red Dress" from Gone With the Wind. One thing that you can't really see in my picture is just how TINY Vivien Leigh's waist was. You can get an idea in the movie in the scenes where she's being laced up in her corset, but seeing it on a model right in front of you really puts it into scale. It was pretty amazing to be able to stand a foot away from that iconic costume!

Science Picture of the Week #97

Constellations painted on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Photo August 2006.

Science Picture of the Week #96

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and one of its satellite galaxies (M32). Taken with the Prime Focus Camera on the 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in 1998 (AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the final color image you see here.)

Picture of the Week #95

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega in the National Air and Space Museum. Photo September 2006.

Since I just finished listening to a biography of Amelia, I thought this would be a good choice this week.

More hummingbirds!

One more hummer video! This one I was able to shoot outside, so I caught the birds little tweets. They are amazingly noisy little critters!

Star Wars in Concert!

A few photos from the excellent Star Wars in Concert that I went to see last Sunday. They had original movie props and costumes around the arena and they were, of course, mobbed with people. I did my best to get some people-free photos, as well as a few from the concert itself. You can see the rest of the photos in my Flickr set for the concert.

Picture of the Week #94

Political cartoon honoring the contributions of JFK and LBJ to the first moon landing

Hummingbird video

I've finally gotten around to uploading one of my hummingbird videos to You Tube! I have a few more I'll upload in the next couple of weeks, including one with sound where you can hear the bird chatter. This video doesn't have sound since I took it through a window and all you could hear was the tv.

Picture of the Week #92

Recreation of a photo of the Mercury 7 astronauts. From the "To The Moon" exhibition, April 2009.

Picture of the Week #91

Painting of Galileo with a replica of one of his telescopes. From the "To The Moon" Exhibition, April 2009.

Picture of the Week #90

Another composite image of M33 (which I posted a different version of back in 2008). AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the final color image you see here.

Another visit to the Main Building

After never setting foot the President's office in my nearly 20 years at UT, I found myself there again last Friday and will be there again next week (making that three times in the space of a month). Friday's visit was a reception to cap off Staff Appreciation Week where we got a chance to hang out with President Powers in his office, drink wine and nibble on hors d'oeuvres (very yummy hors d'oeuvres, I might add). We also got a nice view of the rooftop garden and walkway, but after a point it got a little too hot to enjoy and we all moved back in to the office (which is in part an old library - heaven!)

While we were there, Dr. Charles Roeckle, the Deputy to the President, showed some of us around the office area and pointed out some of the neat architectural details, including a story behind the window in the previous post. Hopefully I'm recalling the story correctly, but if I get a little of the detail wrong, blame the wine, heat and the long week.

We had a horrible hail storm come through campus two years ago, and many west-facing windows were damaged or totally smashed, including the lower part of the window in the previous post (see the photo below for a view of the whole thing). The two vertical segments of the window were from the old Main Building constructed in the 1880s and torn down in the 1930s when the current building was constructed. When the window was installed in the current building, the top part was just blank, but when the they went to restore it after the hail damage, Dr. Roeckle had the top part done to match what the window had originally looked like when it was in the old main building. I thought that was pretty cool. :)

Picture of the Week #86

Gemini TTV-1 Paraglider Capsule at the National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo September 2006.

From the information plaque:
At the start of the Gemini program in 1961, NASA considered having the two-astronaut Gemini capsule land on a runway after its return from space, rather than parachute into the ocean. The controlled descent and landing was to be accomplished by deploying an inflatable paraglider wing. However, NASA later decided to stick with the proven technology of parachutes and water landings.

This full-scale, piloted Test Tow Vehicle (TTV) was built to train Gemini astronauts for flight. It served as the first of two TTVs used to perfect maneuvering, control, and landing techniques. A helicopter released the TTV, with its wing deployed, over the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it landed.

A visit to the Main Building

For the past four years I have been representing Astronomy and McDonald Observatory on the University of Texas Staff Council and for the past two years I have chaired a committee, which also made me a member of the Council's Executive Committee. We've been working hard to raise the profile of the Council on the campus and I think our efforts are starting to pay off. The Chancellor of the UT System (the collection of all the University of Texas campuses, of which UT Austin is just one) was visiting the Austin campus last week as part of his annual visit to the whole system and for the first time he requested to meet the Executive Committee for the Staff Council. The meeting went pretty well considering that we didn't really know what the meeting was going to be about or what they expected of us.

While we were waiting for the meeting with the representatives of the Faculty Council to finish, we sat in the waiting area outside the President's office, which has a wonderful stained glass window in the nearby stairwell. This photo is just the top part of the window.

Picture of the Week #85

Pan American World Airways Boeing 307 Stratoliner "Clipper Flying Cloud" at the National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo September 2006.

According to the Boeing website, this plane was delivered to Boeing in 1940 and was the world's first pressurized commercial airliner.

Picture of the Week #84

Mammoth or mastodon at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. (Sorry, can't tell them apart unless I can see the teeth!)

Picture of the Week #83

Globular cluster M75 taken with the Prime Focus Camera on the 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in 1998 (AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the final color image you see here.)

New old blog... or something like that

Because Blogger decided to discontinue FTP publishing (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it was slow and occasionally broke for days on end), I had to move all of the blogs I used Blogger for to new addresses. This presented a bit of a problem with the blog on this site, since it was the homepage! So the new address is blog.larae.net, which you will be automatically forwarded to from the old homepage at plain larae.net. I'm also going to use this blog to test out some of the new design tools and stuff that I have access to now that I'm not using the old publishing service. So if things change often, don't be surprised!

Picture of the Week #81

The Carina Nebula (with the massive star Eta Carina in the spotlight) on the screens at the Vislab in the ACES building at UT. Photo 2010.

This is just a section of the whole array of monitors - there are a total of 75 monitors at 2560x1600 resolution. Photos, of course, do not do it justice!

Snow day!

After several other parts of the state got snow this winter, it was finally our turn for some. It was fun while it lasted! And I'll take it over those nasty ice storms any day.

Here's a short video of the snow from last Tuesday. This was shot from the roof of my building during one of the heavier snowfalls.

I've also uploaded a few photos to Flickr too.

Picture of the Week #79

The Space Shuttle Columbia re-enters the Earth's atmosphere July 27, 1999

This was the historic first flight of a female commander, Colonel Eileen Collins whose crew released the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Picture of the Week #78

Meteorite at American Museum of Natural History, Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. Photo: August 2006.

I think this might be a fragment from the Barringer Crater in Arizona, but unfortunately I don't have a good photo of the information plaque so I can't be sure.

Symphony of Science

Although I'm way late to the game with this, here is the newest offering in the Symphony of Science series - an incredible collection of music videos created from auto-tuned clips of famous scientists.

The three previous videos can be seen at Symphony of Science

Picture of the Week #73

Two different textures of granite in Maine.