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Eyes in the sky and on the ground

National Observatory completes one hundred and seventy five years of service

On the 15th of October the National Observatory completed one hundred and fifty years. However, it could have been completing two hundred and seventy two years. Although its official foundation dates from 1827, by way of an imperial decree, back in 1730 the Jesuits had installed an observatory on the Morro do Castelo (Castle Hill), in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Fifty years later the Portuguese astronomers, Sanches Dorta and Oliveira Barbosa set up another observatory at the same location and they carried out regular observations on astronomy, meteorology, and terrestrial magnetism. With the arrival of the Royal Family in 1808, the collected information was transferred to the Royal Military Academy.

The then Astronomy Observatory, under the he Imperial Ministry in 1827, was a necessity for the Emperor Don Pedro I – he quickly needed to have information concerning the exact location of the Brazilian territory. The work to be carried out by the new organism comprised, among other things, to raise astronomical and meteorological data and to train military engineers in these tasks. Installed in the turret of the Military School, few advances were made for two decades.

Then in 1845, the institute was awarded the name of the Imperial Observatory of Rio de Janeiro, it was transferred to the Fortaleza da Conceição (Conception Fortress) and during 1850 it was again moved to the old installation of a church on the Morro do Castelo. In 1871, the French scientist Emmanuel Liais became the observatory’s head and exclusively focused its efforts on research and the provision of data on meteorology, astronomy, geophysics, the measuring of time. The Belgian astronomer Luis Cruls succeeded Liais in 1881 and helped to establish and mark part of the Brazilian frontiers.

In 1909, the National Observatory (NO), already with this name, was transferred from the Morro do Castelo to the Morro de São Januário, in São Cristóvão, where it has remained until this day. The services provided by the NO are numerous. It carried out the geophysical surveying of national territory, of the earth’s magnetic field, and currently, as well as astronomy research, it generates, maintains and gives out the official Brazilian time.

It spawned the National Meteorology Institute, the National Astrophysics Laboratory and the Museum of Astronomy and Allied Sciences (Mast). Since 1973, it has been offering post graduate courses. Today, the NO is looking to the future and is adopting strategies for a complete revitalization and expansion of its activities.