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University Observatory Munich

Faculty of Physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University

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History of the University Observatory Munich

A Short Historical Abstract

The Royal Observatory in Bogenhausen around 1830
1803–1805  Observing station in the north-west-tower of the former College of the Jesuits in Neuhauser Street (Centre of Munich) to fulfil requirements of the Bavarian Survey.
1805–1816 New station near the villages of Haidhausen / Ramersdorf close to Munich (today: area covered by Eastern Railway Station of Munich). By order of King Max I Joseph the Bavarian Academy of Sciences starts the construction of a new Royal Observatory just outside the village of Bogenhausen, well beyond the bustle of Munich.
Figure 2: The Royal Observatory in Bogenhausen around 1820.
1817–1819 Delivery and installation of astronomical instruments manufactured in the famous mechanical-optical workshops of Utzschneider, Reichenbach, Liebherr, and Fraunhofer. The Royal Observatory constitutes the best-equipped observatory in the world.
Figure 3: Meridian Circle delivered by Reichenbach and Ertel (Munich). The photo was taken around the turn of the century.
1820 Fraunhofer and Soldner, the director of the observatory, lay foundations of stellar spectroscopy, one of the most important observing techniques of modern astrophysics.
1835 A telescope, ordered originally from Fraunhofer and completed by his successor, is being installed on the observatory site. For the next four years this 10.5-inch-Refractor is the best telescope in the world and remains in use until 1969.
Figure 5: The 10.5 inch refractor, originally designed by Fraunhofer and manufactured by his successor Merz, was put into operation in 1835. The telescope is still located in its historical building. The photo was taken around 1900.
1837 For the first time in history: Practicable telegraphic information transmission (between the observatory and the physics workshop of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences).
1840–1879 Lamont, director since 1835, gains world fame for his fundamental contributions to the research in terrestrial magnetism. Further fields of activity: astrometry, meteorology, instrumentation.
1852 One of the precision pendulum clocks is connected by cable to the Bavarian Telegraph Office in Munich. From there, the exact time, determined via meridian circles at the observatory, is distributed throughout Bavaria. Some 70 years later, the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation takes over transmission of the time signal received from the observatory.
1882–1924 Seeliger, the most famous German astronomer of the time, leads the observatory to world-wide recognition. Main activities: Stellar statistics, theory of novae, photometry of dusty objects, astrometry, error analysis as well as geophysical research and development of instrumentation. However, with the city of Munich encroaching on and finally engulfing the site, a period of slow decay sets in.
Figure 8: View of the Royal Observatory around the turn of the century.
1938 Affiliation of the observatory to the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Munich.
1944 Most buildings are severely affected by several bomb raids. Reconstruction of the destroyed buildings is finished in 1954.
  Figure 12: The observatory after the bombing raids in July 1944.
1949 Substantial changes in the observatory structure: All geophysical equipment (at the observatory site and elsewhere are removed and put under the responsibility of the newly founded Institute for Geophysics at the University of Munich.
At the same time the Solar Observatory on top of Mt. Wendelstein (some 75 km south-east of Munich) is turned over to the state of Bavaria, which in turn places it under the the jurisdiction of the University of Munich. It had been established by the German Luftwaffe in 1941 and was under the auspices of the American Army from the end of World War II.
  Figure 15: The Solar Observatory on top of Mt. Wendelstein. Solar measurements were discontinued in 1987. A 0.8-m reflector for night astronomy has been in operation since 1989.
1955–1964 The need to catch up with the high level standard of modern astrophysical research becomes evident. The European Community endeavours to provide excellent observing facilities for common use outside Europe, so the University of Munich decides to make the first move in creating suitable structural opportunities for research and teaching work.
1964–1966 Demolition of the old observatory building and construction of modern institute facilities on the historical site. Main emphasis of activities is now in the fields of astrophysics (e.g., stellar atmospheres) and design of astronomical instruments.
  Figure 14: The new building of the Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics if the University of Munich, constructed in 1964–1966 on the historical site.
Present The Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics has once again attained an outstanding position in the international astronomical community. Presently (1997), about 70 scientists, engineers, PhD (astronomy) and diploma (physics) students are working in the fields of instrumentation (spectrographs, photometers, CCD-Cameras etc.), stellar astronomy (physics of stellar atmospheres, stellar winds, stellar evolution, binaries, cataclysmic variables etc.), atomic physics (quantum mechanical calculation of transition probabilities), plasma physics (cosmic magnetic fields), and extragalactic astronomy (galaxies, dark matter etc.).
About 50% of all students of physics at the University of Munich decide in favour of astronomy as an optional subject and attend the required lectures, seminars and practicals.
Observing activities concentrate mainly on the European Southern Observatory (ESO) at Mt. La Silla (Chile), the Centro Astronomico Hispano Aleman at Mt. Calar Alto (Spain), the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii (USA), and on astronomical satellites (e.g., ROSAT, HST). Observing projects are presently being developed for realization with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Mt. Paranal (Chile) after its completion in the near future.
Besides this, the institute operates a modern 0.8-m reflector at Mt. Wendelstein and has a share in the 9-m HET Telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Texas (USA).
Last updated 2011 July 13 19:10 UTC by Webmaster (webmaster@usm.uni-muenchen.de)