Carona holds the oldest astronomical observatory in Ticino


The observatory is owned by the City of Lugano - The structure houses telescopes of prestigious universities and also enables the study and discovery of stars - they would like to expand

Carona holds the oldest astronomical observatory in Ticino
CdT Archive

Carona holds the oldest astronomical observatory in Ticino

CdT Archive

Not everyone knows that there is an astronomical observatory in Carona. Not everyone knows that at 60 years of age it is the oldest in Ticino and is owned by the City of Lugano. It houses the instruments of prestigious universities and that thanks to its telescopes about fifteen variable stars have been discovered. The observatory is called Calina - it now requires an extension. Astrocalina, the association that manages it, would like to build two or three new houses of 6 meters by 4 to be able to install new equipment ‘Many private individuals ask us, and unfortunately we have very little space’ and a solar observatory. The investment is estimated at 400-450,000 francs and has already been submitted to the City.

A fascinating story

The astronomer Francesco Fumagalli has been managing the observatory along with Fausto Delucchi since 1985, tells us the story of the observatory - which in Europe is almost unique. A fascinating story. ‘Its name derives from Ca ‘Lina. In 1960, Mrs. Lina Senn, who was of Sangallese origins, built this observatory in Carona and, next to it, a pension’. An example of astronomical tourism, with Swiss, German and even Swedish enthusiasts who spent their holidays in Carona to observe stars, planets and galaxies. In 1978, on the death of Mrs. Senn, it was purchased by the then Municipality of Carona in 1985 entrusted to the Ticino Astronomical Society. In 2013, with the aggregation between Carona and Lugano, the structure passed to the City and the astronomical association Astrocalina was established. The association deals with scientific studies but also with didactics, hosting school groups, courses for adults and organizing around a hundred evenings each year involving a thousand people. It is no coincidence that on the ground floor there is a teaching room, which was once financed by the Canton.

What can you see with that telescope, we ask curiously

Telescopes - Rostock, Brno and Pavia

are the heart of the observatory and the telescope with a diameter of 30 centimeters. What can you see there, we ask curiously? ‘Anything you want’ says Fumagalli. ‘Planets, stars. Even quasars’ and therefore the effect of gas and dust falling into a supermassive black hole - at the center of a galaxy - releasing an unimaginable amount of energy (the most powerful, one imagines, in the Universe after the Big Bang). Calina also hosts telescopes of the Universities of Rostock (Germany), Brno (Czechia) and - soon - of Pavia. ‘The only condition we ask - continues the astronomer - is that they be dedicated to the study of variable stars, which is our specialty’. And about fifteen stars of this type were discovered in Carona.

The entire observatory is automated. Through the internet Fumagalli has the power (and the responsibility) to open the roof and at that point the owners of the telescopes can start using their instrument remotely. But how many times a year is the roof opened? ‘About 180 times. We must be sure that the evening is ideal and that the following morning it will not rain. In Carona we are lucky. In Northern Europe they don’t have that many nights available. Our only problem, being so close to the city, is light pollution’. But unfortunately that in Ticino is almost everywhere.

The demand is very high

Rostock, Brno and Pavia. And then there are many private individuals who would like to bring their equipment to Carona. ‘You have no idea of ​​the requests we receive. Unfortunately we don’t have room for everyone and the project we have in mind would allow Calina to further develop’.

But will the city be ready to examine this project?

It had already been talked about in 2018 and 2019, but the City Hall had given up investing also for a question of balance between neighborhoods. Perhaps the situation has now changed a bit. The recent decision to close the Generoso observatory may have sensitized politics on the importance of defending astronomy in Ticino. ‘The pandemic - confirms the head of Culture Department Roberto Badaracco - complicates things a bit, but in the face of new elements we could certainly re-enter the matter. It could also be envisaged that it will be carried out in stages’ or involving private individuals, associations and research bodies. The doors of the Town Hall therefore seem open.

Not to be missed: the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

Astrocalina organizes, every first Friday of the month, a public evening of observation of the sky. The next appointment will therefore be on November 6. But is there an astronomical event that Fumagalli advises us not to miss soon? ‘Sure. There is the maxi-junction between Jupiter and Saturn, scheduled for December 20. We will certainly organize something, but probably from the Carona swimming pool’. This is because Jupiter and Saturn appear quite low in the sky, in a part of the horizon that is covered by the hill at the Calina observatory.

NB: Donated by a benefactress to the Astronomic Society of San Gall in 1960, the observatory was acquired by the Commune of Carona in 1983. It was originally thought exclusively as an recreation observatory for swiss german amateur astronomers. After the acquisition from the Commune, a number of improvements were made to propose to the local population and more specifically to the partners of the Società Astronomica Ticinese the performing instruments and infrastructures of the Center (evening observations, lectures). His position, easily accessible all the year long, also make the observatory an ideal educational resource for schools. Observation of the nighty sky or discussions are organized every first Friday of the month (from April to November) beginning at 21h. Special evenings and observations of the Sun are organized according to the program as weather permits.

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