Italian land and nature: The Stars Over Italy

Oct 19, 2019 688

Italy is a magnificent place to visit, even if you’re looking to the heavens. This trip throughout the peninsula highlights some of its astronomical observatories that are open to the public and certainly where charming views can be enjoyed.

Let’s start out with the Osservatorio astronomico della Valle d’Aosta (Astronomical Observatory of Valle Aosta), in the Saint Barthélemy Valley, Province of Aosta. Completed in 2003, the Observatory is one-of-a-kind for its variety of systems and instruments, among which are a meteorological station, heliophysical laboratory, educational section and planetarium. 

The Observatory of Padua, dating back to 1767, resides in the Veneto Region. One of INAF’s (National Institute of Astrophysics) main facilities, it is also referred to as the Specola. The structure stands in the old quarter of Padua's Medieval, 13th-century castle. Then, the observation facility par excellence - associated with that aforementioned of Padua - is located in Asiago, and was established in 1942. 

Domes, telescopes, multimedia room, a visit to the Copernicus telescope on Mt. Ekar and watching the sky make this the ideal place for an intimate look at the stars.

Observing stations also abound in the Region of Lombardy. The first is the Brera Astronomical Observatory, known around the world and considered the oldest scientific institution in Milan.  The Observatory actually boasts two locations, one in Brera (established 1762), featuring a valuable historical archive, two large libraries and three domes (“Zagar,” for observing comets, and “Schiaparelli”) that are open to the public for both daytime and nighttime observations. The second location is in Merate (Province of Lecco); it possesses two historic domes, a multimedia room and one library with over 6,000 books. These facilities are all open to the public.

Also in Lombardy are the observatory on Mount Generoso in the Lugano Alpine Foothills, on the border with Switzerland, and that in Sormano, in the Alpine Foothills of Lombardy (at over 3,281 ft a.s.l. and 25 mi from Milan. Both are open to the public. Make sure to visit the Astronomical Observatory of Turin, in Piedmont. It was founded in the Regional Capital 1759, but in 1912 was transferred to its current location atop the Pino Torinese Hill, 6 mi from Turin and 3.7 mi from Chieri. 

The Astronomical Observatory of Bologna and Laiano station are in Emilia Romagna, along with an entire area in San Giovanni Persiceto (in the province of Bologna), which is dedicated to astronomy. It includes a planetarium, museum (site of the most important collection of meteorites in Italy) and the observatory, where various astronomical events can be observed. The observation of sunspots is absolutely spectacular, and is possible thanks to a heliostat.

A visit of the Campo Imperatore Observation Site on Mount Gran Sasso (7,218 ft) in Abruzzo is quite enchanting. It has been operating since 1958 and is equipped with two telescopes used to observe supernovae, and for informational and educational purposes. The station is visited by thousands of people every year in the winter, who arrive at the observatory on the cablecar from the Villetta area (Fonte Cerreto). In Lazio, the Astronomical Observatory of Rome is rather well-known. Established in 1938 in the old Villa Mellini on the promontory of Monte Mario, this building offers a marvelous view of the Eternal city. 

Since 1988, the observatory has been supported by the office on Mount Porzio Catone in Frascati, where different annual projects and events bring the public closer to astronomy. Interesting initiatives include observation evenings with the Monte Porzio Telescope (MPT), thanks to which anyone can directly experience the thrill of astronomy. The OAC, Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, in the Province of Naples, is the institutional headquarters of sky sciences in southern continental Italy. It has maintained the charm of the 19th-Century observatory building. 

Over the years, the OAC has developed into a one-of-a-kind complex and a leading group of people dedicated to promoting the culture of astronomy with the intention of bringing young people closer to the sky sciences and to the scientific marvels of our period. There are two facilities in Sicily. The first is the Astronomical Observatory of Palermo, which is located in the Palazzo dei Normanni on the edges of the magnificent old town center. Every year it organizes astronomy events in charming Sicilian locations.

The second is the Center of Astronomical Studies in Roccapalumba, inaugurated in 2008. This modern facility organizes sun observations, along with tours of the orrery to admire the rotation and revolutions of the planets around the axis and the sun, research on the position of the zodiac constellations and observations of the celestial sphere.

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