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EPS Historic Sites - Fabra Observatory

The Fabra Observatory, in Barcelona, Spain, was designated as EPS Historic Site on 9 May 2014.

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

The Fabra Observatory was equipped since its very beginning with a Maihlat telescope of 38 cm aperture, which at present has incorporated the digital technology. It has the code 006 in the International Astronomic Union. With that telescope Josep Comas, the firs director of the Observatory, was able to discover the existence of an atmosphere in Titan, the largest of the 9 satellites of Saturn know at that time.

The atmosphere of Titan was discovered 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 such an observation on a body of 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 have been studied in more detail by the Huygens probe released by the Cassini spacecraft in December 25th 2005, penetrating in the atmosphere in January 14th.

The discovery of Comas i Solà has been recognized by B. Lyot (1963) and P. Doherty (1981) and by Ralph D. Lorenz (1997) and S. Lecompte (2005). After the analysis of the different observations by Comas, Lorentz concludes that they are consistent with all the details obtained by current space missions and indicates 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 make several other important observations. He discovered the 32P/Comas Sola comet, eleven asteroids, some of which have names like Barcelona, Gothlandia, Hispania or Alphonsina. A Moon’s crater and one in Mars are named by him.

At present the Fabra Observatory is permanently observing small planets and comets in the framework of the Minor Planet Center. The meteorological observations of the Fabra Observatory have been accumulated continuously since 1914 at the same place and also for more than a hundred years it has registered the seismic activity.

Observatori Fabra (Barcelona) - 1
Fabra Observatory - © Wikimedia Commons 

More information

Official website of the Fabra Observatory

Fabra Observatory © Academia de Ciences i Arts de Barcelona

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