De Nova Stella

English Translation

Something New

I have never seen a superova. In November, 1572, Tycho Brahe did. He was then just twenty-five years old and to say that it made a big impression on him would be a world-class understatement. Tycho was a Danish nobleman, much interested in astronomy and alchemy and, unlike his fellow aristocrats, not much interested in following tradition and pursuing a military or diplomatic career. This sighting of a new star in the sky was an unprecedented spectacle that set him on the path to becoming the greatest observer in astronomy prior to the invention of the telescope. A year later, he wrote a book about it, referred to by historians as De Nova Stella (Concerning a New Star).

Like nearly all academic publications at that time, it was written in Latin. Its cover page is shown at the right. As was customary, given the inconvenience and costs of publishing during the Renaissance, this book addresses several topics in addition to that described in the title.

De Nova Stella is of enormous significance, not only for the history of science but for Western civilization in general. Throughout Europe and the Middle East, everyone had firmly believed, for about two thousand years, that everything in the celestial domain was perfect and therefore unchanging. In the heavens, nothing new could ever occur—that whatever one saw happening did so only on Earth or, at least, below the “sphere” of the moon. Tycho was very good at astronomy and expert at making observations. Doing the math, he was able to prove that, since this new star exhibited no discernable parallax while the moon exhibited quite a lot, this new star had to be well above the sphere of the moon. Our view of the world was never the same again.

Tycho's descriptions are straightforwad but unfamiliar. Astronomy books today would be full of equations but this book does not contain even one. This is understandable. After all, the equals sign had been invented just fifteen years before; Tycho had probably never heard of it. Mathematics in the sixteenth century was very different from what it is today. When one reads a book from this period, it is not only the language that can prove difficult.

The translation linked below is not the entire book. Only the astronomy sections have been included. The prefatory dedications and the lengthy sections on astrology have been omitted.

Since the technical material is fairly short and since the original text is seldom seen, this publication includes both the latter and its English translation side by side. It also includes appendices with extensive notes on the observations.



This article is a PDF file (49 pages) available at the following link:

De Nova Stella


Please send comments and any other feedback to this address.

This page last updated on 28 April 2023.