Raphaël Bischoffsheim *, studied at the école Centrale. He was rich and fascinated by astronomy. Ambitious, he wished to lead a political career thanks to the voters' gratitude for his benefactions. He was at the origin of the creation of an observatory in Nice. He asked the scientists of the Office of the longitudes to choose a site. The Mont Gros, 372 metres high, was chosen because it was isolated and above the city

With the help of the Administration des domaines, Bischoffsheim acquired a vast property of 35 hectares which he surrounded with a 4 kilometres wall. Between 1879 and 1887, date of the inauguration, fifteen buildings were constructed, the main one sheltered the big equatorial. Famous architect Charles Garnier was in charge of the construction. The dome (24,90 metres in diameter) was conceived by Gustave Eiffel. The big telescope, 18 metres long, was realized by the best opticians, the brothers Henry, and, for the mechanical part, by Gautier. The other buildings sheltered a small equatorial of 9 metres, a coudé equatorial which studies the stellar atmospheres, the double astrographe which looks for comets and asteroids

The 18 metres telescope was for a long time the first one in the world and, thanks to it, important works were made in the observatory of Nice. It is there that professor Chrétien, the inventor among others of the hypergonar which gave birth to the Cinemascope worked. However, in the course of the years, the establishment declined and reduced its activities. A recovery began in 1962 supervised by professor Pecker. Buildings and instruments were restored. The observatory was connected with the University of Nice in 1972. In 1988, it merged with the Centre of studies and researches in geodynamics and in astronomy ( CERGA), installed on the plateauof Calern, above Grasse. The establishment was named Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur and its missions were the research, the education and the broadcasting of the knowledge. The 230 persons, among whom 80 astronomers, who work on both sites study astrophysics, optics, metrology of time.... they are worldly recognized. So the Observatory which keeps all its patrimonial value is still at the leading edge of scientific research.

L'Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur et la science de notre temps, Mesclun, n° 20.

Ralph SCHOR

 

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