June 11, 2008, Vienna Austria. Today was my first full day in Vienna. Before I left for Europe, I made a contact on one of the astronomy websites I frequent. Chris Goldmann offered to show me around an old observatory of Vienna. I called him this morning, took a train to a stop near his home and he picked me up at around 10:45 this morning.
Chris Goldmann is a 26-year-old physics and astronomy student at the University of Vienna. He belongs to an association which, among other things, has the care-taking responsibility for the Kuffner Observatory in the hills overlooking the city. The views from there are breathtaking. This beautiful observatory building dates back to 1884 when Moriz von Kuffner funded the design and construction. The nearly 11" diameter refractor is still the 3rd largest refractor in Austria. More importantly, it had an instrument considered unique in its day, and even now, a Heliometer -- for measuring the diameter of the sun and distances to stars.
Chris and I spent a good deal of time touring the facility. We went into all the domes, talked about the history of the observatory and Kuffner family and discussed what the observatory is doing today. At one point, we put a solar filter on the big scope and tried observing the sun. But as luck would have it, just as I looked into the eyepiece, clouds rolled over the top of the sun and it remained cloudy for the rest of the day!
We then adjourned to a cute little bistro near the observatory for lunch. I asked Chris to help me order some traditional food, and I had a great Austria soup (called Griesznockerlsuppe), salad and noodle dish. It was all delicious and we enjoyed an extended discussion about Austria, the European Union, politics and more.
Around 2 o:clock, Chris and I made our way over to the observatory at Vienna University. This is a 68cm (26.77 inch) refractor, and was for a time the world's largest refracting telescope. It was built n 1878. Whereas the Kuffner Observatory has been fully restored, the University's observatory has not, and it shows the years of wear. But despite its age, one can see the truly majestic nature of this instrument. It is still a thing of beauty.
Chris dropped me by the tram station at around 5 p.m. I had a wonderful time with him. Gaining this kind of insight of the Vienna astronomy scene was a wonderful treat. Thanks to Chris, it made my first day in Vienna truly memorable.
There is still more astronomy to see in Vienna. I'll probably take in the planetarium tomorrow, but that will be about it. I want to explore more of the city before I leave for Krakow on Friday. After all, this is the city of Einstein, it was the capital of the Austria-Hungarian Empire and the home of Mozart and Liszt. So, I'll be off in the morning to discover and explore.