8. TYCHO BRAHE VS. MERCURY--OR A BALKY BLADDER
The 16th century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was a legend in his own time. He attracted attention with his fake nose (the result of a duel) and his pet elk, and, by spotting supernovae and comets, he refuted the notion that the starry heavens are unchanging "celestial spheres." And his notoriety didn't end with his death--which was attributed at the time to a bladder infection caused by his polite refusal to visit the bathroom during a banquet.
Brahe was first exhumed in 1901, at which time medical examiners declared that he had died of kidney failure. But before they reburied him they snipped some hairs from his mustache for posterity--and an analysis of those hairs by Swedish researcher Jan Pallon in 1996 found extremely high levels of mercury in Brahe's system. That fueled suspicions that the astronomer may have been poisoned, or that his sideline in alchemy may have done him in. So last year researchers dug him up again
to conduct a more thorough analysis. The project team
used CT scans, DNA tests, and X-ray techniques to examine his dusty bones, and the researchers are still hard at work interpreting the results. But the astronomer was once more returned to his grave in Prague's Tyn Church in November 2010 with due pomp and circumstance. We'll see if researchers let him stay there this time.