About the Observatory

Mt. Suhora Observatory is part of the Institute of Technical Sciences of the University of the National Education Commission in Kraków, Poland. It is located in the Gorce mountains, near Koninki village, approximately 60 km south-east of Kraków. [ Map ] The scientific staff mostly work on variable stars.

The geographical coordinates of the Observatory are :

   longitude = 20° 04' 03" East
               or 20.0675°
   latitude  = 49° 34' 09" North
               or 49.5691° 
   altitude  = 1009 m above sea level

The History of Astronomical Observatories in Poland

The development of knowledge that took place in Poland in the second half of the 18th Century included astronomy, as illustrated by the establishment of several astronomical observatories. These were founded at the University of Vilnius in 1753, in Kraków in 1791 and in Warsaw in 1825. At the end of the 19th Century there was also a small observatory organized at the Polytechnic in Lvov. These observatories had modest refractors and other small equipment for astronomical observations.

When Poland regained its independence, there were three astronomy centers, in Warsaw, in Kraków and in Lvov. In the 1920's, Poznań Observatory was founded as well as a new Vilnius Observatory. All the observatories were built in large towns which meant that as the towns developed, the conditions for conducting astronomical observations worsened, because clear and dark sky is essential for observations.

The first proposal to establish an observatory in a place with better climatic conditions came from Professor Tadeusz Banachiewicz, then director of the Kraków Observatory. His efforts led to the establishment of an observatory at Lubomir (922 m above sea level) in the Lysina range not far from Myslenice. The observatory had two small refractors (diameters of the objectives: 135 and 76 mm), through which visual observations of the variable stars were carried out. The observatory at Lubomir became famous after the discovery of two comets in 1925 and 1936. It was destroyed in 1944.

On July 29, 1938, a large meteorological-astronomical observatory was opened on the peak of Pop Ivan (2022 m above sea level) in Czarnohora (East Carpathians). An astrograph (a telescope specifically built for photographing the sky) with a 330 mm objective was brought from England and installed. However, soon after, in September 1939, the work of the observatory was interrupted by the invasion of the Red Army. This left the building in ruins from which it never recovered.

In the post-war era, astronomical research was carried out in Warsaw, Kraków, Toruń, Wrocław and Poznań. In the 1950s and 1960s, out-of-town stations connected with the above mentioned centres were established, for example in Ostrowik near Warsaw, at Fort Skała near Kraków, in Piwnice near Toruń, and Bialków near Wrocław. All of these stations are on lowlands and despite being a certain distance away from towns, the conditions for astronomical observations are not ideal.

The Planning and Building of the Astronomical Observatory at Suhora

The idea of building a modern astronomical observatory in a mountainous region, and therefore in good climatic conditions came from Professor Jerzy M.Kreiner, in the first half of 1983. It was accepted by the management of the Kraków Pedagogical University who saw in the observatory not only a location where cutting-edge research for the Astronomy Department could take place, but also as a place of vital significance in the training of physics and astronomy teachers, the primary mission of the Pedgaogical University. After site visits to several mountainous regions, and also after conducting analyses of climatic conditions, it was decided that the best place to built the observatory would be the peak of Suhora in the Gorce mountain range, 1000 m above sea level. This location was few kilometers away from the nearest villages, and was surrounded by a large forest area, now a national park. Supporting the idea of building the observatory at the Suhora site was the existence of a chair-lift at nearby Tobołów (934 m above sea level), which solved many of the transportation problems.

The design of the observatory was prepared by R. Walczykiewicz and his group in the Kraków-based construction company Biprostal, and the arrangement of all necessary formal matters took place in 1985. Construction work began in spring of the following year. On July 24, 1986 the corner stone was laid, and a few months later the basic construction of the observatory was completed. The official opening of the observatory by the then Rector, Professor Rozmus, took place on November 5, 1987.

The Whole Earth Telescope

Since 1991, Mt. Suhora observatory has been part of a world-wide network of astronomical observatories called "The Whole Earth Telescope", which carry out simultaneous observations of the variable stars (at specific set times), whenever possible throughout a 24 hour period. The observatories are situated at various geographical longitudes around the whole globe such that, if in one location the night is ending, a different site further to the west can continue the observations. Two week observation sessions, coordinated by the headquarters, take place a few times a year. The research is primarily focused on white dwarfs, high density, compact stars which are in the final stages of their evolution. Pulsations in these stars cause brightness changes of between 0.005 to 0.2 mag.