09_02 Furdui Et Al

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history of Astronomical Observatory Cluj

Text of 09_02 Furdui Et Al

THE ROMANIAN ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY OF CLUJ-NAPOCA: NINETIETH ANNIVERSARYVASILE POP 1, OVIDIU FURDUI 1, VASILE MIOC 2 Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy Astronomical Observatory Cluj-Napoca Str. Cireilor 19, 400487 Cluj-Napoca, Romania E-mail: vpop@math.ubbcluj.ro , ovidiu.furdui@gmail.com Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy Str. Cuitul de Argint 5, 040557 Bucharest, Romania E-mail: vmioc@aira.astro.ro2 1

Abstract. We present the history of the Cluj-Napoca Astronomical Observatory, from foundation to actual endowment and activity. We also survey the characteristic astronomical researches undertaken in this observatory, and the most significant persons who worked and work here. The paper is intended to emphasize the role of the Cluj-Napoca Astronomical Observatory in the Romanian astronomical life at its 90th anniversary. Key words: history of Astronomy astronomical observatories.


Interests in Astronomy in Transylvania have been known since ancient times. It is enough to mention the Dacian sanctuaries in Sarmizegetusa Regia (see Fig. 1), where some rock alignments were built in order to mark the Suns position at equinoxes and solstices, valuable data to develop the Dacian calendar. All over the world, both astronomical education and research is delivered or leaded by universities or science academies. The set up issue of the first Transylvanian university has the subscription on 12 May 1581, at Vilnius, by Stephan Bathory, who was King of Poland and Prince of Transylania. The University launched its work in Cluj in 1583 with Antonio Possevino as Rector, and was divided in three Colleges: Theology, Philosophpy and Law. The students studied in Latin, and were guided by Catholic monks. In 1585 there were more than 130 students; among them, it was Nicolae Ptrascu, the son of Michael the Brave (in Romanian: Mihai Viteazul), the Prince of Wallachia at that time. Michael the Brave, as the Prince of Wallachia, offered his protection to theRom. Astron. J., Vol.19, No. 2, p. 000-000, Bucharest, 2009

Vasile POP, Ovidiu FURDUI, Vasile MIOC


University when he naturally annexed Transylvania (as a Romanian principality) to Wallachia, in 1599. Displaying a great interest in the scientific work of that time, some enlightened Catholic bishops, among others Janos Vitez (Bishop of Oradea between 14451465), with the support of Professor Georg Peurbach from the University of Vienna, built up a small astronomical observatory owned by the Church. At the end of the XVIII-th century, Ignatius Batthyani (17411798), the Catholic Bishop of Alba Iulia, managed to transform a church of the Trinitarian Order into a Library and Astronomical Observatory (see Fig. 1). In this context, Antonius Martonfi was sent to Vienna to study Astronomy with Maximilian Hell. After his return to Alba Iulia, he became the Director of this observatory (observatory that was in service from 1796 until 1860, when Martonfis canonical astronomer position was canceled). The astronomical institution was endowed with several specific observation instruments: a mobile quadrant, a meridian circle (within the acception of that time) of 74 cm diameter, as well as a refractor of 8.5 cm aperture and 125 cm focus. Other equipments consisted of three refractors having apertures of 3.5 cm, 5 cm, 9 cm, sidereal clocks, celestial spheres, all rendering high accuracy for those times. All these can be found in the inventory of Batthyaneum Library in Alba Iulia.

Fig. 1 Left: the great Dacian sanctuary of Sarmizegetusa Regia. Right: the Batthyaneum Library and Observatory in Alba Iulia.

In the year 1603, the Protestants abolished the Catholic university, and exiled the Jesuits out of Transylvania.Under the Habsburg domination, the Jesuits returned into Transylvania and founded Academia Societatis Jesu Claudiopolitana in 1698, with three colleges: Theology, Philosophpy, and Science (Mathematics and Natural Sciences). Mathematics courses were given by Ioan Fridvalszky and Maximillian Hell; the latter one became the Director of Vienna Astronomical Observatory. This Academy was closed in 1773.


The Astronomical Observatory of Cluj Napoca: 90th Anniversary

The Piaristic Academic College was founded in 1776 and the course of Mathematics and Elements of Astronomy was given by Professor Adolf Geg. Among others, Gheorghe Lazr, the future founder of schools in Wallachia, was student here. At this time, a room with small astronomical instruments was opened in the tower of the College. It seems it was the first attempt to launch an astronomical observatory in ClujNapoca. The language of instruction was Latin until 1848, when the Hungarian language was imposed as official language of the college. During the Austro-Hungarian dualism, the proper political context emerged in the decision of the Hungarian Parliament, in 1872, to create a Hungarian University in Cluj, with Aron Berde as its first Rector. At its beginnings, the university, covered four sections: law and political sciences, medicine, philosophy (languages and history), and mathematics and natural sciences. There were then enrolled 285 students, but only 15 of them had Romanian origin. The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences did not have either an astronomical observatory or astronomical instruments for training programmes. It is not interestless to point out the fact that the renowned journal Astronomische Nachrichten (AN) revealed that Friedrich Wilhelm Schwab, from Klausenburg (Cluj) University, observed variable stars and published his results. He suspected some observed stars to be variable ( Pegasi and Pegasi), observed Mira Ceti, Aquilae, Nova Persei, and discovered a new variable star (U Sagittae). All this was published in the AN between 1878 and 1901. He also took part in a German expedition for Venus transit (1882), at Punta Arenas, and studied the comet 1882 II. Schwab was the first person who regularly performed variable star observations in Transylvania.


The Transylvanians natural desire of owning a national higher-education institution became reality in 1919, when the Romanian University was founded in ClujNapoca. In the first semester of the academic year 19191920, the university enrolled 1871 students. The first team of exceptional professors made the Upper Dacia University one of the most important sources of Romanian culture. In October 30, the university changed its name into the King Ferdinand I University, to glorify the name of the unifier of Great Romania. The Mathematics section within the Faculty of Sciences has been founded by Dimitrie Pompeiu, Gheorghe Bratu, Aurel Anghelescu, Nicolae Abramescu, Gheorghe Iuga, Theodor Anghelu, Petre Sergescu. The name of Professor Gheorghe Bratu (18811941), see Fig. 2, is essentially associated to the beginnings of the astronomical research and education at the University

Vasile POP, Ovidiu FURDUI, Vasile MIOC


of Cluj-Napoca. He was born in Bucharest, in a family originating from Braov. As soon as he graduated the high school and the Faculty of Sciences of Jassy, he was awarded a scolarship in Astronomy at the renowned university Sorbonne (1908), which he successfully completed. Upon this and between 19091912, he became probation astronomer at Observatoire de Paris. Professor Bratu got his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1914 with a thesis dedicated to calculus applications in mechanics problems, under the supervision of Paul Appell, then returned to University of Jassy, where he worked as assistant professor (19141918). In 1918 he was promoted as associate professor of Calculus and next year became Professor in the University of Cluj-Napoca, also giving courses within the Astronomy department of this University. In early days at Cluj-Napoca, on 10 December 1919, Professor Gheorghe Bratu submitted a request for the setting up of the Astronomical Observatory of the town, approved by the Senate of the University on 1 October 1920. Between 19221928, Gheorghe Demetrescu (18851969), see Fig. 2, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cluj-Napoca worked along with Professor Bratu in the development of the observatory building plans and in funding the building works. The site for this unit was donated by the Town Hall in 1925 at the southern border of the town, while the University ordered the following tools from Gillon Company in Paris: a Prin refractor, with aperture of 20 cm and focal length of 300 cm; a Newton reflecting telescope with a parabolic mirror of 50 cm diameter and 250 cm focal length; the 6 m diameter dome as tool shelter. The buildings of the Observatory in 1950 (including the main building with the library, the astrophysics building with the dome, the meridian hall), as well as the main instruments, are presented in Fig. 3 below.

Fig. 2 Left: Professor Gheorghe Bratu (18811941). Right: Academician Gheorghe Demetrescu (18851969)


The Astronomical Observatory of Cluj Napoca: 90th Anniversary

Fig. 3 Left: the buildings of the Astronomical Observatory of Cluj-Napoca in 1950. Right: the Newton reflector and the Prin refractor.

In 1927, the meridian hall was built, and in 1929 the Timing Service was organized, broadcasting time data to all the institutions in the town and replacing the Firemen Time Service. The library, the directors house and the teaching halls were also built then. After Professor Gheorghe Demetrescu was appointed, in 1928, as Astronomer and Deputy Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Bucharest, Professor Gheorghe Bratu gave up on his position in the Calculus Chair, becoming both the Chairman of the Astronomy department and the Director of the Astronomical Observatory. Deprived of the funds needed for the foreign experts p