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OBSERVATORY

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Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 955 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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OBSERVATORY. Up to a comparatively recent date an " observatory " was a place exclusively devoted to the taking of astronomical observations, although frequently a rough account of the weather was kept. When the progress of terrestrial magnetism and meteorology began to make regular observations necessary, the duty of taking these was often thrown on astronomical observatories, although in some cases separate institutions were created for the purpose. In this article the astronomical observatories will be chiefly considered. Up to about 300 B.C. it can scarcely be said that an observatory existed anywhere, as the crude observations of the heavens then taken were only made by individuals and at intervals, employing the simplest possible apparatus. Thus, according to Strabo. Eudoxus had an observatory at Cnidus. But, when philo-. ophical speculation had exhausted its resources, and an accumulation of facts was found to be necessary before the knowledge of the construction of the universe could advance farther, the first observatory was founded at Alexandria, and continued in activity for about four hundred years, or until the middle or end of the and century of the Christian era. Hipparchus of Rhodes, the founder of modern astronomy, by repeating observations made at Alexandria, discovered the precession of the equinoxes, and investigated with considerable success the motions of the sun, moon and planets. His work was continued by more or less distinguished astronomers, until Ptolemy (in the and century A.D.) gave the astronomy of Alexandria its final development. When science again began to be cultivated after the dark ages which followed, we find several observatories founded by Arabian princes; first one at Damascus, next one at Bagdad built by the caliph Al-Mamun early in the 9th century, then one on the Mokattam near Cairo, built for Ibn Yunis by the caliph Iiakim (about I000 A.D.), where the IJakimite tables of the sun, moon and planets were constructed. The Mongol khans followed the example; thus arose the splendid observatory at Maragha in the north-west of Persia, founded about A.D. 1260 by Hulagu Khan, where Nasir Uddin constructed the Ilohkhanic tables; and in the 15th century the observatory at Samarkand was founded by Ulugh Beg, and served not only in the construction of new planetary tables but also in the formation of a new catalogue of stars. With the commencement of scientific studies in Europe in the 15th century the necessity of astronomical observations became at once felt, as they afforded the only hope of improving the theory of the motions of the celestial bodies. Although astronomy was taught in all universities, the taking of observations was for two hundred years left to private individuals. The first observatory in Europe was erected at Nuremberg in 1472 by a wealthy citizen, Bernhard Walther, who for some years enjoyed the co-operation of the celebrated astronomer Regiomontanus. At this observatory, where the work was continued till the founder's death in 1504, many new methods of observing were invented, so that the revival of practical astronomy may be dated from its foundation. The two celebrated observatories of the 16th century, Tycho Brahe's on the Danish island of Hven (in activity from 1576 to 1597) and that of Landgrave William IV. at Cassel (1561-1597), made a complete revolution in the art of observing. Tycho Brahe may claim the honour of having been the first to see the necessity of carrying on for a number of years an extensive and carefully-planned series of observations with various instruments, worked by himself and a staff of assistants. In this respect his observatory (Uraniburgum) resembles our modern larger institutions mare closely than do many observatories of much more recent date. The mighty impulse which Tycho Brahe gave to practical astronomy at last installed this science at the universities, among which those of Leiden and Copenhagen were the first to found observatories. We still find a large private observatory in the middle of the 17th century, that of Johannes Hevehus at Danzig, but the foundation of the royal observatories at Paris and Greenwich and of numerous university observatories shows how rapidly the importance of observations had become recognized by governments and public bodies, and it is not until within the last hundred and thirty years that the development of various new branches of astronomy has enabled private observers to compete with public institutions. The instruments employed in observatories have of course changed considerably during the last two hundred years. When the first royal observatories were founded, the principal instruments were the mural quadrant for measuring meridian zenith distances of stars, and the sextant for measuring distances of stars inter se, with a view of determining their difference of right ascension by a simple calculation. These instruments were introduced by Tycho Brahe, but were subsequently much improved by the addition of telescopes and micrometers. When the law of gravitation was discovered it became necessary totest the correctness of the theoretical conclusions drawn from it as to the motions within the solar system, and this necessarily added to the importance of observations. By degrees, as theory progressed, it made greater demands for the accuracy of observations, and accordingly the instruments had to be improved. The transit instrument superseded the sextant and offered the advantage of furnishing the difference of right ascension directly; the clocks and chronometers were greatly improved; and lastly astronomers began early in the loth century to treat their instruments, not as faultless apparatuses but as imperfect ones, whose errors of construction had to be detected, studied and taken into account before the results of observations could be used to test the theory. That century also witnessed the combination of the transit instrument and the mural quadrant or circle in one instrument—the transit or meridian circle. While the necessity of following the sun, moon and planets as regularly as possible increased the daily work of observatories, other branches of astronomy were opened and demanded other observations. Hitherto observations of the " fixed stars " had been supposed to be of little importance beyond fixing points of comparison for observations of the movable bodies. But when many of the fixed stars were found to be endowed with " proper motion," it became necessary to include them among the objects of constant attention, and in their turn the hitherto totally neglected telescopic stars had to be observed with precision, when they were required as comparison stars for comets or minor planets. Thus the field of work for meridian instruments became very considerably enlarged. In addition to this, the increase of optical power of telescopes revealed hitherto unknown objects—double stars and nebulae—and brought the study of the physical constitution of the heavenly bodies within the range of observatory work. Researches connected with these matters were, however, for a number of years chiefly left to amateur observers, and it is only since about 183o that many public observatories have taken up this kind of work. The application of spectrum analysis, photometry, &c., in astronomy has still more increased the number and variety of observations to be made, while the use of photography in work of precision has completely revolutionized many branches of practical astronomy. It has now become necessary for most observatories to devote themselves to one or two special fields of work. It would be difficult to arrange the existing observatories into classes either according to the work pursued in them or their organization, as the work in many cases at different times has been directed to different objects, while the organization depends mostly on national and local circumstances. As already alluded to above, one of the principal characteristics of the larger observatories of the present day is the distribution of the work among a number of assistants under the general superintendence of a director. This applies principally to the great observatories, where the sun, moon, planets and a limited number of fixed stars are without interruption being observed, but even among these institutions hardly two are conducted on the same principles. Thus in Greenwich the instruments and observations are all treated according to strict rules laid down by the astronomer-royal, while in Washington or Pulkowa each astronomer has to a certain extent his choice as to the treatment of the instrument and arrangement of the observations. The same is the case with the smaller institutions, in most of which these arrangements vary very much with change of personnel. The way in which the results of observations are published depends principally on the size of the institutions. The larger observatories issue their " annals " or " observations " as separate periodically-published volumes, while the smaller ones chiefly depend on scientific journals to lay their results before the public, naturally less fully as to details. Subjoined is a catalogue of public and private observatories still in activity in 1910 or in existence within the past hundred years. (4f°= 1° of long.) (Abbreviations: ap., aperture; equat., equatorial; obs., observatory or observations; o.g., object-glass; phot., photographic; refl., reflector; refr., refractor; s.g., silvered glass; vis., visual; univ., university. Where the names of two makers are given, the first is responsible for the optical, the second for the mechanical part of the instrument.)
End of Article: OBSERVATORY
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