The Fabra Observatory

By . Published on 26 May 2014 in:
May 2014, News, , , , ,

The Fabra Observatory in Barcelona, Spain was recognised as an EPS Historic Site during a specific event held on 9 May 2014.

Since 1904 the Fabra Observatory is one of the characteristics of the skyline of Barcelona. It was built by the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona – which 2014 commemorates its 250th anniversary – under the direction of two academicians, Eduard Fontserè (meteorologist) and Josep Comas i Solà (astronomer) with the sponsorship of Camil Fabra i Fontanils. The king of Spain, Alfonso XIII, inaugurated the Observatory, designed by the academician Josep Domènech i Estapà, the architect that also design the site of the Academy, in the well-known Rambla of Barcelona, next to the Catalonia Place.

The Fabra Observatory was equipped with a Maihlat telescope, which at present has incorporated digital technology, with the code 006 in the International Astronomic Union. With that telescope Josep Comas, the first director, was able to discover the existence of an atmosphere in Titan, the largest of the 9 satellites of Saturn known at that time.

The atmosphere was observed by purely optical means, on the night of 13 August 1907 and was published in the Astronomische Nachrichten. Comas described an object of dark edges and a central more clear part that he interpreted as the existence of one strongly absorbing atmosphere in the Titan environment. The discovery was extraordinary since it is extremely difficult to make such an observation on a body with less than one second of arc, the limit of observations in terrestrial optics. It took forty years to check his result by spectroscopic means and to confirm the existence of an atmosphere with the presence of methane. The characteristics of the atmosphere were studied in more detail by the Huygens probe, which was released by the Cassini spacecraft on 25 December 2005.

The Fabra Observatory
The Fabra Observatory

The discovery of Comas has been recognized by several authors. After the analysis of the different observations by Comas, Ralph D. Lorenz concluded that they are consistent with all of the details obtained by current space missions and indicated that Comas was a keen observer able to appreciate the edge darkening and, consequently, having actually observed an effect of the atmosphere, avoiding the turbulence by making very short observations. Furthermore Comas made several other important observations, including the discovery of the 32P/Comas Sola comet, 12 minor planets, and other objects.

At present the Fabra Observatory is fully operational, permanently observing small planets and comets in the framework of the Minor Planet Centre. Since 2011 the observations are complemented with a new station at Montsec (150 km from Barcelona and at an altitude of 1,570 m) equipped with a modified Baker-Nunn camera, which can reach magnitude 21.

The meteorological observations started at the Fabra Observatory in 1913. Since then, the observations have been taken continuously and from the same place, producing a very important series of climatic data. The detection and study of earthquakes has also continued uninterrupted since 1904 and, since 1985, with a seismic detection station connected to the Observatory 30 km away.

In parallel, the Observatory has developed many outreach activities, receiving more than 2,000 visitors per year and also organizes more than 10 courses per year on meteorology and astronomy. Additionally, in the last 10 years summer night sessions have drawn more than 50,000 participants.

Further information on the Fabra Observatory can be found on its website.

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