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Astronomical observatories in Sweden
by Östen Bergstrand (1873 to 1948)


Astronomical observatories in Sweden, page 11 to 12

By Östen Bergstrand

The old observatory in Stockholm in the 20th century. Photographer unknown The old observatory in Stockholm in the 20th century.
Photographer unknown.

As early as the end of the 18th century, it had become clear that the Uppsala Observatory's location in the middle of the city and certain inconveniences in the building's construction itself made relocation and new construction desirable, and they had already begun to look for a suitable location outside the inner city. The question came up several times after the turn of the century; on one occasion (1818) it had even been decided to relocate the department to the northern castle tower. However, nothing was done about it, mainly for financial reasons, and the Celsius Observatory became increasingly dilapidated. However, after it was proposed in 1841 that the university would benefit from state funding for this and other construction companies, the question came to a new situation, and when Gustaf Svanberg became professor of astronomy the following year, the realization of the old plans finally became serious.

Svanberg had acquired a thorough knowledge of the newer observatories abroad, and it was especially the observatory in Berlin that was now taken as a model. An area at Fjärdingstullen near the cemetery was designated as the site for the new department. Construction work began in 1844, but it was not until 1853 that the observatory was completed. The long postponement of the observatory's renewal might have been regrettable in itself, but from our point of view it has certainly entailed a great advantage. We at the time in question made completely new views regarding the arrangement and equipment of the astronomical observatories, and if the issue had previously been resolved, it is possible that these new views were not sufficiently taken into account. We might then have had to settle for an institution of a very outdated type for a long time to come.

Stockholm's new observatory in Saltsjöbaden: The large refractor dome. Photographer unknown. Stockholm's new observatory in Saltsjöbaden: The large refractor dome.
Photographer unknown.

In the new Uppsala Observatory, Sweden had its first astronomical institution of a contemporary nature. Its foremost instrument was a refractor of Steinheil with a 24 cm opening, and gradually several other new instruments were acquired; several passage instruments, vertical circle, precision pendulum clock and more. An extensive and meritorious observation activity was carried out above all by Svanberg's employees and successor Herman Schultz. I will soon return to the development of the observatory in recent decades.

It was not until the 1860s that Lund University finally got its observatory question resolved. At the initiative of astronomy professor Axel Möller, a completely new observatory was built in Lund in the years 1864-67. It was equipped with a refractor with a 24 cm opening and a little later with a large meridian instrument, a so-called meridian circle. During the first quarter of a century after the observatory's completion, a lively observational activity developed here, especially through the observer Nils Dunér, who here performed his work on binary stars and star spectra and the first part of his famous studies on the rotation 1 of the sun, which are generally considered modern classic astronomy work. By Dunér and others, extensive observational work was also done with the meridian circle in order to determine star locations.

Dunér was called professor in Uppsala in 1888. This event forms, one can say with some justification, the beginning of a new phase in the development of the astronomical observation activity in Sweden. During the 1880s, photography had seriously made its entrance as an aid in astronomical observation work. This is not the place to explain the meaning and significance of this reform. Needless to say, nowadays in almost all kinds of astronomical surveys the photographic methods have almost completely supplanted the visual. This means, in fact, that the nature of the observatory work has changed completely. The vast majority of astronomical works nowadays are carried out, not by observations directly in the sky, but by microscopic measurements on photographic plates of respective regions of the sky, taken with cameras specially designed for the purpose. Duner had been interested in this thing from an early age, the enormous significance of which he clearly realized. In Lund, he had no opportunity to introduce and test the new methods. But through his move to Uppsala, the situation became different.

1 These investigations were later continued in Uppsala after Dunérs moved there.

Additional information by Lars:

More about Stockholm's old observatory:

Have also a look at the map at first page.

More about Gustaf Svanberg (only Swedish):

More about Stockholm's new observatory (only Swedish):

Location of Stockholm's new observatory. Have a look at my own visit to the observatory, Stockholm new observatory.

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