Starry, Starry Lviv Night

Issue 84, November 2015.

Starry, Starry Lviv Night

It is not so easy nowadays to sit outside and catch the planets, constellations, and shooting stars. Light pollution, busy schedules, or even the weather can get in the way of that otherworldly experience. But if you or your kids really enjoy staring at the stars, or if you’ve never had the chance to get a good look at the Milky Way, then a trip to the observatory is a great way to examine the night sky. Observatories offer the chance to look across the universe using someone else’s high-powered telescope.

Ukraine is famous in Europe for its astronomy. Nearly 25 astronomical observatories are located at various scientific institutions in every region of the country. Universities throughout the land are noted for their work in astronomical research and the country’s astronomical infrastructure is widely used amongst international programs. In fact, right here in Lviv, we are lucky enough to have our own observatory, as well as a research station in the suburbs designed for spotting the biggest stars.

The Astronomical Observatory of Lviv’s Ivan Franko National University has a long and complicated history. Closely connected to the city’s Central European legacy, the Lviv Astronomical Observatory was founded in 1771 by Jesuit monks next to the Collegium (which evolved into the university). This makes Lviv’s observatory one of the oldest in Europe. Jesuits understood the importance of observatories and they considered them to be a cornerstone of psychological, ideological, and social structure of society. Founded during the Enlightenment, the observatory always carried the important mission of education and dissemination of knowledge. As Lviv was considered by then to be a centre of culture and commerce in Eastern Europe, it seemed a natural place to develop the science of astronomy, even despite the less-than-ideal climatic conditions.

Nowadays, the Lviv Astronomical Observatory runs scientific activities in the following areas: physics of the sun; physics of the stars and galaxies; relavistic astrophysics and cosmology; and practical astronomy. The main building is located in the city centre (9 Kyryla I Methodia St.), where the nearly century-old Zeiss 13-cm refractor is mounted on the roof. The main observational site, which is much larger, is located in the suburban village of Brukhovychi. This is where the regular observations of the sun, stars, and other planetary bodies are carried out. These facilities include larger instruments, including: more powerful telescopes, a photoheliographer, and instruments to run a wide variety of scientific experiments, including laser ranging (LRS) observations. The pure scientific research undertaken at the observatory is complemented by teaching specialized subjects for students. The observatory also provides educational programming aimed at anyone that is interested in the field of astronomy.

There seems to be a growing gap between the high technological advances in science and what is considered to be general knowledge. The paradox is that we have more information than ever at our disposal and yet the circle of scientific knowledge seems to be shrinking. The promotion of true astronomical knowledge can help build a positive society with a true picture of the world. Any person that has ever been touched by the spirit of exploration and research, new discoveries, and progressive ideas is sure to be spellbound by the field of astronomy.

One of the duties of an astronomer is to promote interest in astronomy. One of the best ways to do that is to invite the public to the places they work to show what they do, share what they’ve learned, and to let people experiment with new ideas and instruments. Observatory excursions are held regularly and content is seasonal and based on what celestial bodies are able to be seen depending on the season and time.

Astronomy is one of the very few cutting-edge fields of science where amateurs can still make a real difference. The universe is so huge that professionals could never cover all of it. Astronomy began as an amateur science, and still today amateurs are needed to map the solar sky and add important data to our understanding of our universe. Amateurs regularly discover new comets and super-novae and monitor individual stars. Some of their findings even take their names! So take a nighttime tour of Lviv’s beautiful sky – book an observatory visit and maybe you’ll discover a cool and exciting hobby for life!

For more detailed information about excursions, please call (032) 253-4870.