22 March 2012

SPAIN: The Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy, ROA!

The Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy
(Real Instituto y Observatorio de la Armada)
credit: Real Instituto y Observatorio de la Armada
San Fernando (Cádiz), Spain.
The Royal Observatory of Cadiz, originally conceived by the Spaniard Jorge Juan y Santacilia (1713–1773), was founded in 1753.
The Observatory was created as an annexe to the 
Royal Marine Guards Academy with the purpose of teaching astronomy ( Star navigation) to future naval officers. In 1798 it moved next to the island of León, in our days the municipality of San Fernando (Cádiz)
Jorge Juan, Founder of the Observatory
In 1735 Jorge Juan, together with the Spaniard Antonio de Ulloa y García de La Torre (1716–1795), had participated in the expedition to Peru led by the Frenchman Charles Marie de la Condamine (1701–1774) to measure an arc of the meridian at the equator. On his return in 1744 he devoted himself to the reorganisation of the Spanish Navy. Once appointed Captain of the Compañía de Guardiamarinas (Royal Marine Guards) in 1751, Jorge Juan promoted the establishment of an astronomical observatory.

As I entered the fenced complex of the Observatory, I was greeted at the gate by Cristina Pita the local guide of the Observatory. A charming woman with lots of knowledge on the history of the Observatory and on the installations. As we walked through the gardens she took me to the offices of the assistant director Miguel Vallejo Carrión.
A couple of minutes later Mr. Vallejo Carrión received me and we could start the interview.

As I explained our project of investigating Astronomy through out Spain
Mr. Miguel Vallejo Carrión was very candid in his answers. As a Military man, husband and father of two Mr. Vallejo Carrión is also a physicist working with the Observatory on various projects. As a military officer he has responsibilities on the overseeing of the installations and the staff working at the Observatory ROA. But as a scientist he has worked in many projects including the project of updating of the scientific instrumentation in Observatories around the world (Argentina, Canary islands, Spain).

The Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy has a staff of  aprox. 90 people ranging from groundsmen to scientists. The repartition between military and civilians is about 35% military and 65% civilians. 

Time keeping in ROA
credit: KTY Toutatis Astronomy Club
I ask Mr. Vallejo Carrión  the top priorities of investigations at the Observatory and he responded that everything was of an significant importance but the main investigations where the observation with telescope of the position of the Stars in the night sky, the Ephemeris of the Stars, the keeping of time and the investigations on Earth sciences (Meteorology, Seismology, Geomagnetism and GPS satellite positioning).

The Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy has also a national responsibility every year to calculate and publish the Almanack of Ephemeris of the Stars and the keeping of the "golden" standard Time of Spain. As Mr. Vallejo Carrión says, you could stop investigating the Earth sciences, but you could not stop fabricating the Ephemeris of the Stars and the fabrication of Time.

The Main telescope at ROA
Credit: KTY Toutatis Astronomy Club

The Observatory ROA is also actively engaged with other observatories around Spain and the world to investigate many projects involving Astronomy. The standardisation of astronomical instrumentation and the updating of the installations are priorities around the observatories involved says Vallejo Carrión. But as the strains of economic instability hit Spain at the moment, the resources are minimized and carefully distributed through out the Observatories and their projects.

As I strolled through the grounds of The Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy I noticed that the people working at the Observatory where very kind. They all took interest in showing me with enthusiasm their work and installation they where working in. All in all this was a fantastic experience and journey through the history of Astronomy here in Spain.
A special thanks to Cristina Pita for her kindness.

Click HERE to read the 5th post of our journey through astronomy in Southern Spain.

Links of interest: Observatory ROA (Wikipedia Only in Spanish)
                          ROA Time
                          The Royal Institute and Observatory of the Spanish Navy