• Old Madras Observatory: Field notes 1


    This 10 ton, 15-foot long granite pillar, erected in 1792, is one of the few remains of India’s first modern public observatory, the Madras Observatory, started by the British East India Company in 1786. For over a century it was the only astronomical observatory in India that exclusively worked on the stars. Among the astronomers at the observatory were Norman Robert Pogson, Michael Topping and John Goldingham. By 1899, it had been relegated to gathering weather-related data. It now is within the grounds of the Regional Meteorological Centre, Chennai. More details can be found at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1988JBAA…98..189S

    The  pillar, which carried the original transit equipment has the name of the architect, Michael Topping and the year A.D.MDCCXCII inscribed on it. The inscription that follows below is also carved in Tamil and Telugu.

    (I) The Geodetic position (Lat 13 4′-3″O.5 N) Long-80(4′-54″20 E) of. Col. Willaim Lambton is primary original of the survey of India, fixed by him in 1802, was at a point 6 feet to the South & 1 foot to the West of the centre of this pillar.
    (2) The centre of the Meridian Circle of the Madras Observatory was at a point-12 feet to the East of the centre of this pillar.)


    In the year 1855 – Capt. W.S. Jacob of the East India Observatory in Madras, India, found orbital anomalies in the binary star 70 Ophiuchi that he claimed were evidence of an extrasolar planet – the first exoplanet false alarm. The “discovery” began a 140-year period of other exoplanet discovery false alarms, but no actual exoplanets, orbiting any star, were discovered and confirmed until 1992.

     “It is the observatory where T.G. Taylor make a catalogue of stars popularly known as the ‘Madras Catalogue’, which Sir George Airy, the then Astronomer Royal, considered ‘the greatest catalogue of modern times’. Here the eminent astronomer N.R. Pogson also discovered several minor planets and variable stars and conducted observations for his world famous Variable Star Atlas.”

    Dilip M. Salwi, Madras Observatory: A forgotten page in Astronomy


    The pillar that carried the original small transit instrument on a massive granite pillar has on it an inscription in Latin, Tamil, Telugu and Hindustani,

    “Posterity may be informed a thousand years hence of the period when the mathematical sciences were first planted by British liberality in Asia.”


  • Scottish Dark Sky Observatory

    Under the Below Another Sky Project I also able to visit The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory which occupies a fantastic hilltop spot on the edge of the Galloway Forest Park near Dalmellington, under some of the darkest skies in the UK. read more

  • The Light of Things Hoped For…

    I joined the Amateur Astronomers Association in New Delhi in July 1999 in my second year at the College of Art in New Delhi. At the time I thought it might be the closest thing to a science fiction convention in the city. read more

  • Diary of an Astro-nomad – I

    In July 2009, India witnessed  the longest total eclipse of the millennium and I traveled to Patna, Bihar with a group of amateur astronomers to see it. Unfortunately the weather played spoilsport and when it began, read more

  • Diary of an Astro-nomad – III

    July 2010, visit to the incredible High Altitude Gamma Ray Telescope (HAGAR)  at The Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO)Hanle, Ladakh, India. read more

  • Diary of an Astro-nomad – II

    We traveled to the town of Varkala in Kerala to see the longest annular solar eclipse of this millenium, nicknamed ‘the Ring of Fire’. An annular solar eclipse happens when the Moon covers the Sun’s center, leaving the Sun’s visible outer edges to form a “ring of fire” or annulus around the Moon. In an annular eclipse of the Sun, the Moon casts its antumbra – the outer part of the Moon’s umbra – on the Earth.

    read more