Perched high above the city, in the hilly right-bank suburb of Floirac, is the Observatory of Bordeaux, one of the most significant scientific sites in the area, and one for which a new chapter will open later in 2016.
The observatory was founded in 1878 by the Bordeaux-born astronomer Georges Rayet (whose name was to be given to his joint discovery, so-called Wolf-Rayet stars) and has, over the years, become a renowned establishment initially excelling in the fields of celestial mechanics (calculation of the motion and trajectory of celestial objects) and astrometry (measurement of the positions and movements of celestial objects). From the 1970s onwards, the observatory’s focus extended to include studies in radio waves and research into the Earth’s atmosphere.
|The observatory as it looked in 1906 (postcard courtesy of Adam Roberts over at Invisible Paris) and the same view today during a recent open day. Domes, from left to right: Grand-Equatorial, Table-Equatoriale, Equatorial-Photographique (partially obscured). The building to the right is known as bâtiment Rayet.|
|The Grand-Equatorial dome (top) and the main laboratory building, the Würtzberg radiotelescope, and a rather tall antenna.|
|France's property now: the Würtzberg radiotelescope.|
The big changes which are afoot are that, come September 2016, the Astrophysics Laboratory will have relocated to more modern, purpose-designed facilities on university campus land in Talence. The Floirac premises are therefore set to be entirely vacated, although there is every chance the larger telescopes and viewing equipment will remain.
|Some of the observatory's vintage instruments. Top left: petite lunette équatoriale (1882); bottom left: grande lunette équatoriale (1882), right-hand pictures: équatorial photographique (1892).|
As so often at Invisible Bordeaux, the case continues, and perhaps the next time I return the place will look and feel very, very different…