Altona observatory

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The Altona observatory in Palmaille 9 in today's Hamburg-Altona was founded in 1823 by Heinrich Christian Schumacher and continued to operate until 1871 after his death in 1850. The construction took place at the suggestion of the Danish Minister of State Johannes von Mösting with regard to the national surveying of Holstein , with which Schumacher, professor of astronomy at the University of Copenhagen and previously director of the Mannheim observatory , had been commissioned. When the German " Elbe Duchies " separated from Denmark in 1864 and a new observatory was built in Hamburg-Bergedorf, the observatory was moved to Kiel in 1874 .

Foundation and land surveying

Baroque house by Schumacher in the center of the picture
Location of the Altona observatory in Palmaille

After Schumacher was called back to the Copenhagen observatory in 1815, he initiated a large-scale survey of Jutland from Skagen to Lauenburg. In order to connect the Danish measurements to the European degree measurement , Schumacher managed to involve Gauß in Göttingen with the Hanoverian measurements in the south (" Gaußsche Landesaufnahme ") in the Jutland project. A fundamental station was required in Altona to connect the two measurement networks .

In 1821 Schumacher acquired a baroque gabled house in Palmaille in Altona / Elbe , which at that time was still under Danish administration. He set up an observatory on the garden property , which should primarily serve to determine the exact location . The garden plot fell steeply to the Elbe and was located between Palmaille / corner of van der Smissen-Allee and Carolinenstraße (today Olbersweg). Several surveying points to the south and the tower of Hamburg's Michaeliskirche in the east could be sighted from the bay windows of the house . In the garden, Schumacher's friend Johann Georg Repsold set up a meridian circle . In 1824, the astronomical difference in length between Altona and the Greenwich Observatory was determined by means of a "chronometer expedition" - which at that time was much more complex than determining the length of the world in the 20th century. See also Altona Meridian .

In Altona, Schumacher began to publish the Astronomische Nachrichten , a leading astronomical specialist journal, in 1821 .

During the Schleswig-Holstein uprising from 1848, the house of the loyal Danish civil servant Schumacher was surrounded by soldiers. He himself was under house arrest and died in late 1850.

Lengthy relocation to Kiel

Immediately after Schumacher's death, the finance department in Kiel intended to close the observatory. The establishment of a chair for astronomy, including an observatory, was planned at the University of Kiel . There was also the Hamburg observatory in the immediate vicinity . In Altona, on the other hand, factories had emerged whose chimney smoke impaired observations. Due to lack of money, some of the devices had to be sold and sometimes went. a. to the Universities of Copenhagen and Kiel and to the Navy. The library went to a Berlin antiquarian . Some works could later be bought back.

Schumacher's long-time employee Adolph Cornelius Petersen took over the management of the observatory on a temporary basis. However, he lacked the cosmopolitan dexterity and foreign language skills of his predecessor. In order to use the scripts that were received from astronomers all over the world for the Astronomical News, Petersen first had to take language lessons. Petersen died in 1854.

A Danish commission finally decided that the Altona observatory should continue to operate for the time being. Christian August Friedrich Peters , who had previously worked at the Hamburg , Pulkowo and Königsberg observatories , was appointed as the last director in 1854 . The Astronomical News continued to be published. In the following years 58 volumes appeared. However, the quality decreased significantly. Peters had an aversion to Russian astronomers and fell out with a number of his German colleagues. The news became a partisan paper that many authors stayed away from.

In 1864 the German Elbe Duchies broke away from Denmark and the observatory lost its financial support. Kiel was chosen as the location for a new observatory . In 1871, construction plans and measurements were completed and Peters moved with his family to Kiel. Construction work began in spring 1874. After an unusually short and hasty construction phase, the Kiel observatory was inaugurated in October 1874.

The building in the Palmaille was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1941. Today the Federal Research Institute for Fisheries is located there .

Equipment of the observatory

The Altona observatory had a meridian circle with a 10.38 cm opening (46 Parisian lines of 2.2558 mm each) and an equatorial telescope from Repsold, a refractor built in 1865 with 11.7 cm opening and 1.95 m focal length, and other smaller devices . The instruments later formed the basic equipment of the Kiel University Observatory.


Coordinates: 53 ° 32 ′ 45.2 "  N , 9 ° 56 ′ 39.4"  E