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International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
Vilnius observatory, Lithuania

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
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Old Vilnius Observatory, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilna (Latin), Wilna (German), Wilno (Polish)

 

Location 
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Latitude 54°40’59.1996’’ N, Longitude 25°17’11.4’’ E, elevation 101m above mean sea level.

 

IAU observatory code 
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070 (before 1939), 570 (after 1939)

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
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Vilnius Observatory and tower (1753)

Fig. 1. Vilnius Observatory and tower (1753)



The University of Vilnius, one of the oldest and most famous establishments of higher education in Eastern and Central Europe was founded in 1570 as Jesuit college and became a university, called Academia et Universitas Vilnensis S.I., in 1579 due to the decree of István Báthory (1533--1586), King of Poland and grand prince of Lithuania. The university belonged until 1773 to the Jesuit order.

In 1752 an experienced architect, mathematician and astronomer Thomas Žebrowski (1714--1758), who had studied in in Prague with Joseph Stepling (1716-1778) as supervisor, designed a plan of an astronomical observatory. The observatory is erected on the top of the three-storey university building -- supported by the benefactress Duchess Elzbieta Oginskaite-Puziniene (†1767). The building was started in 1753 with the tower and the upper floor.

An enlargement of the observatory with the nice facade was added in 1782/88 by the famous architect Martin Knackfuss (1740--1821), professor for architecture, when the Marcin Odlianicki Poczobut (1728--1810) was rector of Vilnius University from 1780 to 1799. This  extension to the south was necessary for the large meridian mural quadrant (diameter of 8 foot). The classical structure had two towers for observations and a firm sandstone wall in the plane of the meridian.

Vilnius Observatory (1753)

Fig. 2. Vilnius Observatory (1753)



Vilnius Observatory is a beautiful building - in late Baroque style and Neoclassicism - with two three-storey round towers like doric columns with small rotating domes, and nice decorations with the zodiac signs. The building is in perfect condition still nowadays. Vilnius Observatory and in addition Cracow and Warsaw are the oldest three Polish observatories.

In 1876, there was a great fire and caused a lot of damage in the observatory; then, in December 1882, it was closed by the Tsarist regime. Many instruments were taken away to various museums and observatories of the Russian empire, especially to Pulkovo Observatory. Vilnius Observatory was in active international scientific contact with Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and with German astronomers.

 

History 
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Donations for instruments came from friends of science, bishops, and landowners. The instrumental equipment was initially very modest, there was a 4-foot reflecting telescope. Zebrowski determined the latitude of Vilnius, calculated solar and lunar eclipses and the passage of Mercury.

Vilnius Observatory, motto <i>Sic itur ad asVilnius Observatory, motto <i>Sic itur ad as

Fig. 3a and 3b. Vilnius Observatory, motto Sic itur ad astra and coat of arms



The front wall of the observatory was decorated with the signs of Zodiac and Latin quotations (Sic itur ad astra). Vilnius kept up close contacts with many well-known observatories such as Berlin, Greenwich, Königsberg, Paris, Pulkovo and others. In 1921 it was decided to build a new observatory in the outskirts of the city. The old building is in use by the university.


Instruments of Vilnius Baroque Observatory



  • Large Sextant (radius 196cm), Jacques Canivet of Paris (1765)
  • Transit-Telescope, Jacques Canivet of Paris (1765)
  • Astronomical Clock
  • Octant, Equatorial, two Theodolites, 10-ft-Sextant

  • 3 1/4-ft-Achromatic Telescope, John Dollond (1770)
  • 3.5-ft-Reflecting telescope, James Gregory (1770)
  • 10-ft-Reflecting telescope, James Gregory (1770)
  • Large Meridian Mural Quadrant (diameter of 8 foot), Ramsden of London (1777)
  • 4 ft Transit-Telescope, Ramsden of London (1777)
  • Meridian circle (1788)
  • 10-cm-Achromatic refractor (focal length 109cm)
  • 11-cm-Achromatic refractor (focal length 120cm), Simon Plößl (1794--1868) of Vienna
  • Horologium (1828)
  • Meridian circle, R. Mailhat of Paris (end of 19th century)



    Vilnius Observatory (1753)

    Fig. 4. Vilnius Observatory (1753)



  • Solar photoheliograph, G.H. Dallmeyer of London (1862) - the second after Kew Observatory, systematically photographing sunspots
  • Visual double-beam photometric telescope, made by Friedrich Magnus Schwerd (1792-1871) (1868) - there exist only four in the world, the original Schwerd is in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, the other one in Bonn Observatory and in Pulkovo.
  • Helioscope, Georg Merz of Munich (1869)
  • Universal Spectroscope, Georg Merz (1793--1867) of Munich (1870), improved by Karl Friedrich Zöllner (1834--1882)


Instruments of Stephen Bathory University Observatory, Vilnius-Vingis Park (1921)



  • two 15-cm-Astrographs, Carl Zeiss of Jena (1920s), photometric telescopes, used for photographic photometry of variable star fields
  • 48-cm-Reflecting-telescope (1938), used with a slitless  spectrograph, and since 1960 used for photoelectric stellar photometry, seven-colour photometric system
  • 63-cm-mirror (Kaunas Observatory), used for photoelectric stellar photometry since 1973.



Directors in the heyday of the observatory



Marcin Odlanicki Poczobut (1728--1810), director o

Fig. 4. Marcin Odlanicki Poczobut (1728--1810), director of Vilnius Observatory, 1764 to 1807




  • Thomas Žebrowski (1714--1758), director 1753 to 1758,
    architect and astronomer, determined the latitude of Vilnius, calculated solar and lunar eclipses and the Mercury transit
  • Jacobus Casimir Nakcyanowicz (1725--1777), director 1758 to 1764

  • Marcin [Martinus] Odlanicki Poczobut (1728--1810), director 1764 to 1807, rector of the University of Vilnius from 1780 to 1799; member of London Royal and Sorbonne Academies.

    In 1773 he created the constellation Taurus Poniatovii in honor of Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, published in Cahiers des observations astronomiques faites à l’observatoire de Vilna en 1773 (1777), and published by Johann Elert Bode (1747--1826) in Astronomisches Jahrbuch (1785). He cooperated with Jérôme Lalande (1732--1807) concerning the observations of Mercury. He also started to observe sunspots regularly, 1769 to 1779, also Uranus, and the newly discovered asteroids Ceres and Pallas. His assistant was Andreas Strecki (1737--1797).



Directors - Lithuania in the Russian Empire


The Third Partition of Poland (1795) was a major turning point; now Lithuania came to Russian Empire which effectively ended Polish-Lithuanian national sovereignty until 1918.

  • Jan Śniadecki (1756--1830) of Cracow, director 1807 to 1825, rector of the University of Vilnius, 1807 to 1815

    Śniadecki observed planets, asteroids (he had even discoveres Pallas independently of Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers (1758--1840) in 1802), and comets. His observations were published in Bode’s Astronomisches Jahrbuch and in the Memoirs of the Imperial  Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. Piotr Sławińnski assistant, 1817 to 1825.

  • Piotr Sławińnski (1795--1856), director 1825 to 1843, in 1832, Vilnius University was closed. Then the observatory was administered by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
  • Michael Hlusznewicz (1797--1862), director 1843 to 1847

  • Georg Albert Fuss (1806--1854), director 1847 to 1854
  • Georg Sabler (1810--1865), director 1854 to 1865

    Sabler started astrophysics and solar physics, after having visited Warren de la Rue (1815--1889) in 1862 and bought an heliograph, introduction of an official service in monitoring and photographing sunspots in 1868.
  • Matwej Gussew (1826--1866), director 1854, 1865 to 1866,

    since 1852, Gussew was assistant of Sabler, and made regularly observations of sunspots.
  • Pjotr Smyslow (1827--1891), director 1866 to 1882,

    assistant Friedrich Wilhelm Berg (1843--1882) of Dorpat/Tartu, and photographer Suworow. In 1868 to 1876 (the great fire), solar photography (900 photos), the 1860s, photometric and spectroscopic observations.


Director of Stephan Báthory University Observatory



    Władyslaw Dziewulski (1878--1962), director 1919--1939, rector of Batory University, 1924--1925

    photographic observations of variable stars, spectroscopy, and stellar statistics.

 

State of preservation 
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The impressive university building with the historic observatory is a valuable cultural heritage.
The university building with the observatory is in perfect condition.

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
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Vilnius Observatory was among the first observatories in Europe and the first in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

It is an outstanding spectacular  building - very different from all the other observatories.

 

Threats or potential threats 
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no threats

 

Present use 
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It is the main building of the university and library.
Inside in the large hall one can see - like in a museum - the historical instruments of the Baroque observatory.

 

Astronomical relevance today 
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Astronomical relevance today
Due to light pollution in Vilnius, the observatory had to be moved out of the city center to the new site of the University observatory near Vingis Park, M.K. Ciurlionis street, built in 1921. The research topics were mainly photometric and spectroscopic investigations of variable stars and stellar statistics.

Moletai Astronomical Observatory (1969) (Wikipedia

Fig. 5. Moletai Astronomical Observatory (1969) (Wikipedia)



Moletai Astronomical Observatory


In 1969, Moletai Astronomical Observatory on the Kaldiniai Hill (55°18’57.5’’ N, 25°33’48.0’’ E, Elevation 200m) was started - 70 km north of Vilnius. For modern astronomy and astrophysics, this new observatory, IAU observatory code 570 (after 1939), is used. The following instruments are available:

  • 25cm telescope (1969/75)
  • 35/51cm Maksutov telescope (f/3.5) (1975)
  • 63cm Cassegrain telescope (1973)
  • 1-m-Ritchey-Chretien, Carl Zeiss of Jena (1978), installed at Vilnius’ observing station on Mount Maidanak in Uzbekistan (2500 m altitude)
  • 165cm (zerodur, Lytkarino optical factory near Moscow) Ritchey-Chrétien telescope (focal length 19.68m), group of constructors of the Astronomical Observatory of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) University, leaded by director of the Observatory M.K. Babadzhaniants (1990), reconstructed in 2014. This 165-cm-telescope is the largest in Northern Europe (excluding Britain).
  • Additional equipment: diffraction slit spectrograph UAGS, Carl Zeiss of Jena, seven-channel photometer, and a Kron-type electronographic camera.

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
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  • Drema, Vladas: Dinges Vilnius (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Vaga 1991.
     
  • Kubiak, M. & I. Korzeniewska: Astronomical observatories in Poland. In: Astronomical observatories in Poland. Edited by the Local Organizing Committee for the Extraordinary General Assembly of the IAU in Poland. Warszawa (Poland): Polish Astronomical Society. PWN - Polish Scientific Publishers 1973 (62 p.), 1973aop..book.....K.
     
  • Matulaityte, Stase: The Old Vilnius University Observatory (in German: Die alte Universitätssternwarte in Vilnius). In: Baltic Astronomy 13 (2004), p. 61-81 (2004BaltA..13...61M).
     
  • Poczobut, Marcin: Beobachtung der Sterne des Poniatowskischen Stiers auf der Königl. Sternwarte zu Wilna. In:  Astronomisches Jahrbuch (1785), p. 175--176.
     
  • Schulze Wessel, Martin; Götz, Irene & Ekaterina Makhotina (Hg.): Vilnius. Geschichte und Gedächtnis einer Stadt zwischen den Kulturen. Frankfurt am Main: Campus 2010.
     
  • Sterken, Chris & Klaus B. Staubermann: Karl Friedrich Zöllner and the historical dimension of astronomical photometry. A collection of papers on the History of Photometry. In: The Journal of Astronomical Data (JAD), Volume 6 (2000), Number 7 (2000JAD.....6....7S).
     
  • Wolfschmidt, Gudrun: Die Entwicklung der astronomischen Photometrie bis in die 20er Jahre. In: Wissenschaftliches Jahrbuch des Deutschen Museums, München: R. Oldenbourg (Abhandlungen und Berichte N.F. 6) 1989, S. 227-268, S. 271-272.
     
  • Wolfschmidt, Gudrun (Hg.): Astronomie im Ostseeraum - Astronomy in the Baltic. Proceedings der Tagung des Arbeitskreises Astronomiegeschichte in der Astronomischen Gesellschaft in Kiel 2015. Hamburg: tredition (Nuncius Hamburgensis - Beiträge zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften; Band 38) 2018.
     
  • Wolfschmidt, Gudrun: Die Sternwarte der Universität Vilnius. In: Wolfschmidt 2018, p. 248--261.

       

       


       

     

    Links to external sites 
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    • Vilnius University Observatory: https://www.webcitation.org/61AV0VUxU?url=http://www.vu.lt/en/welcome/history/observatory/
    • Universitas Vilnensis 1579--2004,
      https://www.vu.lt/site_files/InfS/Leidiniai/Vilnius_University_1579_2004.pdf

    • Astronomical Observatory, Stefan Batory University, Vingis Park (1921), https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC56RTH_astronomical-observatory?guid=460463be-5eeb-4ef9-a542-931a069e8b60
    • Moletai Astronomical Observatory (MAO), Vilnius University Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy, http://mao.tfai.vu.lt/sci/en/news/
    • Vilnius University Observatory, Vilnius University, http://mao.tfai.vu.lt/sci/en/about-observatory/history-of-observatory/
    • Observatorijos pastatu ansamblio astronomijos bokstas (2018), Observatory in Vingis Park:
      http://www.vilniusgo.lt/2018/11/15/observatorijos-pastatu-ansamblio-astronomijos-bokstas/

     

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