A Visit to the 

Pic Du Midi Observatory


 

                                          (Talk dated 30/ 9/05)

 

     We drove up to the De La Monge ski resort and from there took two cable cars up to the Pic du Midi, the fare being 20 euros. The journey took about 15 minutes to reach the final height of 2877 metres ( 9300 feet ). Although there had been warnings to pregnant women, and about young children and people with heart problems, this altitude produced no noticeable effects.

     An extensive visitor display, and 600 square metres of terraces gave panoramic views of mountain summits allegedly for 300 kms. Certainly the view was fabulous, including the Spanish border country and much of the Pyrenees, with peaks up to 3400 metres ( 11000 ft.).

     There was a comprehensive astronomical display, including a dome with an 8 (?) or 10 (?) inch refractor on a heavy industrial mount. The inevitable gift shop had bags, T-shirts, fridge magnets, medallions and soft toys. A set of slides would have been a good addition, but the best I could find was some postcards. Away from the public section is the contemporary manned telescope, a 2 metre Lyot telescope, the largest in France. With it is a 1 metre F16, used to study the famous Shoemaker Levi comet impacts on Jupiter on  the 20th July, 1994. (Along with every other telescope).

    The following history of the Pic du Midi Observatory is from an illustrated article on the Internet.

    The Pic has had a history of meteorology before it became involved in astronomy. As early as 1774 Monge and Darcet climbed it to study atmospheric pressure, and in 1873 General De Nansouty installed a temporary met. Station here where he measured temperature, pressure, humidity, and other meteorological values. This met. Station is now part of the Meteo France network

    In 1874 a road was constructed from Bagneres to Bareges going by the Tourmalet pass. In 1878 the first stone of the observatory was laid, although it was not until 1884 that astronomical work started. In 1908 the first dome was constructed and everything was being created under extremely difficult conditions. Not until 1927, with the opening of the Tourmalet to Sencours road was it more easy to bring up people and equipment by way of a winding trail. In 1930 bernard Lyot invented the coronograph and started  observational research.

    In 1933 the road was extended to the Laquets, where a hostel was built. In 1949 an elevating platform was constructed to bring staff and equipment from the Laquets to the summit, and this was followed in 1952 with the creation of a cable car between La Mongie and the summit of the Pic. By 1957 a radio / TV transmitter was in operation, and the Telediffusion De France aerial was operating by 1963. 

    Also in 1963 the 106 cm telescope was installed under the Gentili dome, and in collaboration with NASA the Pic du Midi was chosen as the centre for detailed cartography of the Moon’s surface inn preparation for the Apollo missions.

    In 1980 the 2 metre Bernard Lyot telescope, the biggest in France, was put into service, and in 2000 the Pic du Midi Observatory was opened to the public.

     [The above history is probably a shortened version of what Paul gave at the talk, and of course there may have been slides because he certainly took a number while there. Alternatively he could have used postcards with an epidiascope.]