Astronomer Tycho Brahe uncovered some of the mysteries of the universe in the 16th century — and now modern-day scientists are delving into the mystery of his sudden death. On Monday, an international team of scientists opened his tomb in the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn near Prague's Old Town Square, where Brahe has been buried since 1601. After eight hours of work, they lifted from the tomb a tin box like a child's coffin in which Brahe's remains were placed after the only previous exhumation, in 1901.
Brahe's extraordinarily accurate stellar and planetary observations, which helped lay the foundations of early modern astronomy, are well documented but the circumstances surrounding his death at age 54 are murky. It has been long thought that he died of a bladder infection, but tests conducted in 1996 in Sweden, and later in Denmark, on samples of his mustache and hair obtained in the 1901 exhumation, showed unusually high levels of mercury. That led to a theory of mercury poisoning — even, possibly, murder.