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Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
La Plata Astronomical Observatory, Argentina

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-14 02:16:46
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Observatorio Astronómico de La Plata), Paseo del Bosque, La Plata, Argentina

 

Location 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-14 02:17:31
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

34°54’33’’ S, 57°55’56’’ W, Elevation 29m

 

IAU observatory code 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 1
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-13 10:07:59
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

839

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 7
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 13:24:23
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

 

La Plata Astronomical Observatory, Entrance (Photo

Fig. 1. La Plata Astronomical Observatory, Entrance (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)



La Plata Astronomical Observatory, Entrance (Photo

Fig. 2. La Plata Astronomical Observatory, Entrance (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

 

The City of La Plata was founded by Governor Dardo Rocha (1838-1921) on November 19,1882, and planned by the architect Pedro Benoit (1836-1897) on a generous scale with broad streets and diagonals; it is famous as one of the best planned urban systems of the 19th century. An axis leads up the hill to a city park with the university, observatory and science buildings. The "Universidad Nacional de La Plata" was founded in 1905 (in 1897 it began as a Provincial University—the 3rd one in Argentina after Buenos Aires and Córdoba). The Astronomical Observatory together with the Natural Sciences Museum and the Veterinary and Agronomy Faculty were the first institutions.

The observatory was erected from 1885 by Pedro Benoit in historic style as was typical in Europe at this time but with an innovative layout: about 20 buildings such as domes, pavilions and shelters were placed in a large 7 ha astronomy park (the description follows the article of Forte, Juan Carlos & Sofia A. Cora, 2009). In 1889, the main building and the Repsold meridian circle building were erected, the latter used as a conference room; in 1891 the domes for the Zeiss-Gautier reflector telescope and the astrographic telescope were added; and finally in 1895 came the Gautier equatorial refractor telescope.
This observatory, active in research in astronomy, meteorology, geodesy, geophysics and seismology, has been supported since 1 Jan 1905 on a national level, and became one of the leading institutions of the southern hemisphere.

 

Refractor Gran Equatorial, La Plata Astronomical O

Fig. 3. Refractor Gran Equatorial, La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)



Refractor Gran Equatorial, La Plata Astronomical O

Fig. 4. Refractor Gran Equatorial, La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

 

 

History 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 7
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 13:39:40
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

 

80-cm Reflector Building, La Plata Astronomical Ob

Fig. 5. 80-cm Reflector Building, La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)



80-cm Reflector of La Plata Astronomical Observato

Fig. 6. 80-cm Reflector of La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

 

 

The idea of erecting an observatory was inspired by the event of the transit of Venus, which was observed by French and Argentinian astronomers together. An astronomical station at Bragado was erected by E. Perrin during the Venus transit on December 6, 1882, using a 8’’ equatorial refracting telescope and a chronometer. Later, a small meridian circle, two astronomical clocks, a chronograph, and meteorological instruments were ordered.

Francisco Beuf (1834-1889), formerly director of the Marine Observatory at Toulon in France, was appointed as director of the Naval School and Hydrographic Office in Argentina, and then on November 22, 1883 (until 1889) as director of the observatory. His emphasis was on positional astronomy (e.g. a meridian circle and a zenith telescope). The domes of the larger instruments were not installed until 1890.

In 1899 Virgilio Raffinetti was appointed as interim director until 1905. During the time of Francisco Porro di Somenzi, who was director from 1905/06 to 1910 (and also dean of the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical, and Astronomical Sciences), the completion and reparation of the buildings of the large refractor and the large reflector took place as did that of of other magnetic, seismological and meteorological instruments. Also, the time light was substituted for the time ball for indicating the time to the ships in the port at Dock Central.


Scientific Heritage — Achievements and Instruments

Pablo T. Delavan discovered the comet 1913d on 26th September 1913, an interesting discovery since it was the second apparition of Westphal’s comet (1852).

Johannes Hartmann (1865–1936), the German director from 1921 to 1934, tried to introduce astrophysics, especially astrophotography. In the 1920s he made photographic observations of asteroids and comets; several asteroids were discovered, such as (965) Angélica, (1029) La Plata and (1254) Erfodia. Besides the discovery of asteroids he observed Eros and the Nova Pictoris.

Félix Aguilar (1884-1943), director from 1934 to 1943, a specialist in geodesy, made latitude observations in the context of the International Geodetical Association with the zenith telescope. In 1945 he erected an astrometric station in Santa Cruz; the aim was to measure the positions of circumpolar stars with the Repsold meridian circle.

Guillermo O. Wallbrecher (1898-1961), director from 1947 to 1955, observed binaries and asteroids and the opposition of Mars in 1956. He set up an "Estación Astrofísica Argentina Presidente Sarmiento" and the "Telescopio Perón" 1952.

The observatory has also had several clock systems designed to provide accurate time. In addition there is a meteorological tower and the Mainka seismograph, a GPS system which forms part of a worldwide network.

 

 

Meridian Building, La Plata Astronomical Observato

Fig. 7. Meridian Building, La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)



Zenith Telescope, Wanschaff, Berlin, La Plata Astr

Fig. 8. Zenith Telescope, Wanschaff, Berlin, La Plata Astronomical Observatory (Photo: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

 

 

List of Instruments


  • 8’’ equatorial refracting telescope (aperture 21.6-cm, 3.1-m focal length), made by Gautier, and a chronometer (for the Venus transit)
     
  • two zenith telescope (aperture 8-cm, focal length 80-cm), Paul Gautier of Paris, 1887 and 1888
     
  • a 15-cm-astrograph (photographic refractor) for the Carte du Ciel, 1890, objective (34.2-cm of aperture and 3.42-m of focal length), made by Carl Zeiss of Jena, 1913 (used until 1986)
     
  • a 80-cm-reflector, made by Gautier, 1887, optics by Paul and Prosper Henry, Paris, 1889, new mirror by Carl Zeiss of Jena, 1930 (changing from a Newtonian to a Cassegrain system)
     
  • a large 43.3-cm-equatorial refractor (9.6-m focal length), Gautier, Paris, 1887-1894, optics Paul and Prosper Henry
     
  • a meridian circle, made by Gautier, Paris
  • a 20-cm-comet-seeker (1.38-m focal length), Carl Zeiss of Jena, 1906
  • two transit instruments, A. Repsold & Son of Hamburg, 1906 and 1907, 7.5-cm-objectives (75-cm focal length) made by Steinheil of Munich
  • a zenith telescope, Julius Wanschaff of Berlin, for latitude observatories of the International Geodetical Association
     
  • a large meridian circle, made by A. Repsold & Son of Hamburg with a two-lens objective by Carl Zeiss (19-cm-aperture, 2.8-m-focal length), 1908
     
  • a zenith telescope, Carl Bamberg of Berlin, 1913.

A larger, 2.15m reflector was purchased during the 1960s and named "Jorge Sahade". It was the largest in the southern hemisphere and the forth largest in the world at that time. It was installed in San Juan in 1986.

 

State of preservation 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 13:45:26
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

The park of 7 ha with 18 buildings remains complete, as it was built by Pedro Benoit at the end of the 19th century; some buildings are restored. A very impressive room is the library with an antique cast-brass gas chandelier and paintings of telescopes; the large table was used around 1900 for spreading and unfolding the large charts for the cartographic survey of the Province of Buenos Aires. Restoration by the architect Leonforte, a specialist of the Fine Arts, was carried out including the ceiling of the library, the Gautier refractor telescope and the Zeiss-Gautier reflector telescope. The Repsold meridian circle building was converted to a conference room.

The ground floor of the Gautier equatorial refractor telescope is used as a Museum of Astronomy and Geophysics, created in 1997 within the network of Museums of La Plata National University. The original instrumentation has been recovered and is presented in the museum: it includes a Zeiss "blink comparator" for asteroids and variable stars research, the Repsold meridian circle, and a photometric camera. The museum is responsible for the restoration and conservation of the historical instrumental heritage. In addition, there exists a photographic plate collection.

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 6
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 13:56:57
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

The similarity to Hamburg Observatory is really striking, with the extended astronomy park and the impressive buildings of "distinctive architectural value" well preserved, especially the large domes for the refractor and the reflector. The 80cm-reflecting telescope is one of the earliest in the world at that time, like the 1m reflector in Hamburg.

 

Present use 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 14:01:48
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

In 1935 the first School for Astronomy and Related Sciences was installed by Félix Aguilar in the Observatory, and a graduate course in geophysics was set up in 1948. By merging these schools in 1983 the current Faculty of Astronomical and Geophysical Sciences was established.

The astronomical institute of La Plata National University has also existed since 1997 and in the park a Museum of Astronomy and Geophysics and soon a Planetarium (2013) are to be offered to the public. The Zeiss-Gautier reflector telescope is also used for academic purposes. In addition the Zeiss-Gautier reflector telescope, the large Gautier equatorial refractor telescope and the Zeiss comet-seeker are currently used for teaching activities and star gazing for the public. "Both students and professors keep a deep connection with the historical past of the Observatory and there is a strong commitment to preserve the value of this unique cultural heritage."

 

Astronomical relevance today 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 14:04:52
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

The Observatory is still used by astrophysicists for high-level research.

An important symposium on "Stellar Evolution" took place in 1960, organized by Dr. Jorge Sahade. Outstanding astronomers such as Carlos Jaschek, Maarten Schmidt, Allan Sandage, Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, Olin J. Eggen, Alex Feinstein and José Luis Sérsic attended that remarkable meeting.

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 14:11:27
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Romero, G.E., S.A. Cora & S.A. Cellone (eds.), 2008. El Observatorio Astronómico de La Plata. Proceedings of the Workshop on Historia de la Astronomía Argentina. La Plata.

Hussey, William J., 1914. Descripción general del Observatorio, su posición geográfica y observaciones de cometas y estrellas dobles. Publicaciones, Tomo I. La Plata: Observatorio Astronómico.

Forte, Juan Carlos & Sofia A. Cora, 2009. La Plata Astronomical Observatory. In Wolfschmidt, Gudrun (ed.): Cultural Heritage of Astronomical Observatories — from Classical Astronomy to Modern Astrophysics. Proceedings of International ICOMOS Symposium in Hamburg, October 14–17, 2008. Berlin: hendrik Bäßler-Verlag (International Council on Monuments and Sites, Monuments and Sites XVIII) 2009, p. 196–203.

 

Links to external sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 122
    Subentity: 1
    Version: 4
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2018-08-29 14:17:29
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Facultad de Ciencias Astronómicas y Geofísicas, Paseo del Bosque s/n, B1900FWA, Argentina.

La Plata Astronomical Observatory.

Museo de Astronomía y Geofísica (Museum of Astronomy and Geophysics).

Planetario Ciudad de La Plata, Av. Iraola y Calle 118; Paseo del Bosque; B1900FWA La Plata.

Planetario Ciudad de La Plata, Av. Iraola y Calle 118; Paseo del Bosque; B1900FWA La Plata.

 

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