Astronomy in the Czech lands - The Astronomical Institute

Ondrejov Observatory, photo:

Welcome to Czech Science where we have been following the history of astronomy in the Czech lands since the 17th century. Today astronomy is being studied at universities in Prague, Brno and Opava. But since the 1950s the main centre of research in astronomy in Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic has been the Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences. Professor Jan Palous is the head of the institute.

"This is an institute which has two roots, two origins. One origin is the Klementinum Tower in Prague. The Jesuits founded there in the middle of the 18th century an observatory. The Jesuit monk Josef Steplink was the first director of this observatory. So we may say he was the first director of this Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences."

The Klementinum, a former monastery in the centre of Prague, which also houses a large and precious library, was not too practical for astronomical observations. A much more suitable facility was built more than a hundred years ago in Ondrejov, southeast of Prague.

"The second root is the Ondrejov Observatory. The Ondrejov Observatory was established in 1898 by Josef Jan Fric who bought the land and who constructed two domes plus four smaller houses, a working house plus some other facilities on the top of a small hill. Then he donated this observatory - it was a private observatory - he donated it at the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the existence of Czechoslovakia, on October 28th, 1928, to the state."

When the original owner Josef Jan Fric donated Ondrejov to the Czechoslovak state, he had a special wish as to who should be in charge of the observatory.

"He wished that the first director of the observatory be Professor [Frantisek] Nusl (1867-1951). Professor Nusl was at that time the director of the Klementinum Observatory. So this was a personal union and since then the two institutions have been united to some extent and so it was quite natural that at the beginning of the year 1953 when the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences was established, the two institutions were united in one Astronomical Institute."

And that's the end of our short series on the history of Czech astronomy. But, of course we'll be looking at some of the latest findings and endeavours of Czech astronomers in future editions of Czech science.