The Royal Observatory of Belgium

Dossier ~ Friday 13th February 2015

The Royal Observatory of Belgium recently celebrated its 100th birthday. It is a great opportunity to have a look back at the history of the observatory... and a look forward to its future!

Tintin - " The Shooting Star "

Everything began in the Brussels commune of Saint-Josse in January 1883, when Adolphe Quetelet founded the very first Belgian observatory. The first meteorological and geophysical observations he made at Saint-Josse make up the first links in a long chain of observation that continues today.

In 1889, the Observatory moved to the commune of Uccle. It was made up of the Observatory itself, the Royal Meteorlogical Institute of Belgium, and the Belgian Institute of Space Aeronomy (study of the atmosphere). In this way, all the expertise necessary to study meteorology and astronomy was concentrated in one location.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium

Hergé lived in Uccle at the beginning of the 1960s, not far from the beautiful observatory. The author then moved to the Vert Chasseur quarter and then to Dieweg. These three residences are all close to the Observatory.

As time went by, the Royal Observatory of Belgium grew and developed numerous departments including the geophysics, seismology and geodetics departments. Today there are four departments present, each split into two sections.

The first department is the Department of Planetary Reference Systems, which is concerned with everything relating to time, the Earth's rotation, space geodetics and the geophysics of telluric planets. The department contributes to the creation and evolution of reference systems and gathers information and data relating to the evolution of the Earth as well as other planets.

The second department is the Department of Seismology and Gravimetry. The work done by this team is the study of earthquakes in Belgium and Internationally.

The third department is the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, which is concerned with phenomena and objects both inside and outside our galaxy, as well as the physics of stellar atmospheres. The mission of this department is to sudy the evolution of the sky and everything it contains, including stars.

The last department is the Department of Solar Physics and Meteorology. The aim of this department is to study and learn about the structure, activity and dynamics involved in the Sun's atmosphere.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium
The Royal Observatory of Belgium
The Royal Observatory of Belgium

The Royal Observatory of Belgium is interested in our planet and in the Sun, but also in other objects in the Universe such as the stars. The team at the observatory also holds time in its hands! Possessing several atomic clocks, which are accurate to within a nanosecond and that are kept in controlled-temperature environments, the Royal Observatory keeps time for Belgium and also contributes to the calculation of time internationally.

Hergé depicted the Royal Observatory of Belgium in his Tintin adventure The Shooting Star. Inspired by the world around him, the author loved to set sequences from his stories in Brussels locations; the observatory in Uccle was one of these places. The comic strip artist loved the old architecture, which transports visitors into the past. But within the old walls the latest technology is being used by astronomers and other specialists as they keep their work at the cutting edge of modern science.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium
The Royal Observatory of Belgium
Tintin - " The Shooting Star "

But it was not only the observatory that exerted its magic on Georges Remi. The interior of the Yerkes Observatory in the United States, with its gigantic telescope, served as a model for Hergé's drawings in The Shooting Star.

Tintin - " The Shooting Star "

Closed to the public most of the year, the Uccle Observatory remains a mystery for most Belgians. All kinds of great stories could be set at the observatory; and if we ever need to know whether Earth really is in danger of being invaded by giant mushrooms, then we only need ask the observatory scientists!

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