SHORT HISTORY OF THE ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY OF PADOVA 
FROM FOUNDATION TO THE FIRST WORLD WAR

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Giuseppe Toaldo 
(1719 - 1797)

On May 21 1761, the Senate of the Republic of Venice issued a decree instituting an astronomical observatory at the University of Padova. This decision followed a suggestion by the Riformatori dello Studio, the Venetian magistrates responsible for the proper government of the University of Padova, and had matured within the framework of a complex program of reform of the University, with new teaching chairs and the constitution of new scientific ‘establishments’, the role of which, in modern terms, was to be that of allowing professors to ‘experiment’ and to instruct their students in the practice of experimentation.

It was not until four years later, in September 1765, that the professor of astronomy, geography and meteors, the abbé Giuseppe Toaldo (1719-97), was ordered to visit the main Italian observatories to gather information on how to build an observatory and on the instruments necessary for an astronomer’s work. 
On his return, Toaldo was required to present a budget and a project, and in December 1765, the architect Don Domenico Cerato (1715-92) was summoned from the nearby city of Vicenza. Cerato was a friend of Toaldo’s and had been a fellow student with him at the episcopal Seminary at Padova, and the abbé believed, with good reason, that Cerato was one of the best architects of the time.

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The old castle, before the transformation

As the best place on which to build the observatory, Toaldo proposed the high tower of theCastel Vecchio, the old castle, with its thick, solid walls. This tower was eminently suitable for such a transformation: in addition to allowing much money to be saved, it was on the southern outskirts of the city, and from its top the eye could range freely across the whole of the southern horizon. It was an ideal place for future astronomers to work in. And indeed, it is to the south, on the celestial meridian, that stars ‘culminate’, that is, they reach their highest position above the horizon during their apparent daily motion, and may thus be observed more easily. Thus it was that the old Medieval castle was transformed into an astronomical specola (specula is the Latin word for observatory).

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South cross-section showing the transformation of the old tower in ‘Specola’. 
From an original drawing by Domenico Cerato

Building work was begun in 1767 and continued for ten years.

News – MEDIA INAF

Il notiziario online dell'Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica
  • La mappa del campo magnetico realizzata da un team di astronomi nei dintorni del buco nero nel sistema binario V404 Cygni presenta valori dell’intensità del campo magnetico fino a quattrocento volte inferiore a quelli attesi. Piergiorgio Casella (Inaf): «È un risultato senza precedenti, che apre la strada ad una comprensione maggiore di ciò che avviene attorno a questi oggetti misteriosi»

  • Due articoli firmati dall’astronomo svizzero André Maeder, entrambi pubblicati su ApJ, presentano un modello cosmologico che ambisce a spiegare ciò che osserviamo senza dover ricorrere a energia e materia oscure. È plausibile? Lo abbiamo chiesto a un cosmologo dell’Inaf, Carlo Burigana

  • Usando le antenne di Alma, un gruppo di ricercatori ha scoperto due galassie che si sarebbero formate quando l'universo aveva appena il 5 per cento dell'età attuale. Secondo i dati raccolti, i due oggetti lontanissimi erano avvolti da un’immensa struttura: un alone di materia oscura

  • Lo spettrografo di terza generazione installato al Very Large Telescope dell'Eso ha condotto con successo le sue prime osservazioni. Filippo Zerbi (Inaf): «Espresso è uno strumento fuori dal comune e fuori dal comune è stata la sfida decennale per concepirlo, realizzarlo e infine portarlo pienamente funzionale al telescopio»

  • Ipotizzate nel 2014, le “strongly interacting massive particles” sono entrate a far parte della lista di particelle candidate a spiegare la dark matter. Ne ha parlato in questi giorni a Cape Town, al 29esimo Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics, uno degli scienziati che le hanno proposte, Hitoshi Murayama

  • Lo scienziato australiano Tobias Westmeier ha prodotto la mappa più dettagliata mai ottenuta delle nubi di idrogeno neutro ad alta velocità. Il risultato, pubblicato su Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, migliora in sensibilità e risoluzione le mappe precedenti, e potrebbe fornire nuovi indizi sull'origine di queste nubi e sulle condizioni fisiche al loro interno

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