Red divider

Pico dos Dias Observatory and its instrumentation: 

witnesses of astronomical revolutions in the last four decades


Tânia P.  Dominici, Cláudia P.  dos Santos, Maria Lucia de N.M. Loureiro

Kátia Bello & Zenilda F. Brasil


Museu de Astronomia e Ciências Afins (MCTI/MAST) – Rua General Bruce,

586, Bairro Imperial de São Cristóvão, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil, 20921-030

Contact author:

Printer friendly PDF

Red divider



The Pico dos Dias Observatory (OPD) has operating since 1980 in the south of Minas Gerais (Brazil).  It is the home of the largest optical telescope within the Brazilian territory: a 1.6m Perkin-Elmer.  Its instrumentation package has been evolving over the life of the observatory and has been contemporaneous with the revolution in the means of generating astronomical data in the 20th century —from the complex register of images and spectra on photographic plates to the production of gigabytes of digital data in a single night.  We have been working on the identification and documentation of the historical material of the OPD and of the National Laboratory of Astrophysics (LNA), responsible by its operations.  In this paper, we present the status and the first studies of that collection, carried out in order to preserve it and to give broad public access to an important chapter of the science development in Brazil.

Keywords: astronomy, astronomical instrumentation, Pico dos Dias Observatory, recent heritage


O Observatório do Pico dos Dias (OPD) está operando desde 1980 no Sul de Minas Gerais (Brasil).  Ele abriga o maior telescópio óptico dentro do território brasileiro: um Perkin-Elmer de 1.6m.  Seu parque instrumental tem evoluído com o tempo e o observatório foi contemporâneo da revolução na geração de dados astronômicos ao longo do século XX: partindo do complexo registro de imagens e espectros nas placas fotográficas até a produção de gigabytes de dados digitais em uma única noite.  Temos trabalhado na identificação e documentação do material histórico do OPD e do Laboratório Nacional de Astrofísica (LNA), responsável por suas operações.  Neste trabalho apresentamos o estágio atual e os primeiros estudos da coleção, realizados com o objetivo de preservar o acervo e oferecer acesso público amplo a um importante capítulo do desenvolvimento científico no Brasil.

Palavras-chave: astronomia, instrumentação astronômica, Observatório do Pico dos Dias, patrimônio recente



For centuries, celestial phenomena and the position of stars, planets and other astronomical objects were registered only through drawings and annotations made by the observers, who made naked eye measurements and, from Galileo’s early 17th century use of the telescopes, to observe the sky.

It was very difficult to get an independent confirmation of a discovery or to compare the observations using different methods of analysis. Only at the end of the 19th century, with the development of the photographic techniques, did it became possible to register direct images of the night sky as well as the spectra of bright celestial objects. However, photography was time consuming to process and analyze the observations.  One reason is that the photographic plates need of long exposures to be more sensitive to light compared with the human eye.  Additionally, even considering the evolution in the preparation and analysis of those plates with time, they were part of a complex analytical process and, in the majority of cases, it took a long time to obtain scientific results.

In the mid-20th century, the use of photomultipliers was introduced to measure the brightness of astronomical objects. Equipment based on the photoelectric effect (which earned a Nobel Prize for Albert Einstein in 1921), the photomultiplier, does not produce images of the objects and only converts the incident light (photons) to an amplified electrical signal, with linear response. Photomultipliers are reasonably sensitive to the incident light, but can be used with confidence only during photometric nights (ref. 1). The use of the photography as the primary method to register astronomical images lasted until the 1980s, when a major revolution in astronomical observations was implemented – the development of solid state detectors, i.e. the charge coupled devices (CCDs). The developers of this technology (Willard Boyle and George Smith of the Bell Labs) were awarded the Nobel Prize (2009) and nowadays it is ubiquitous — CCD detectors and their derived technologies can be found in digital cameras, mobile phones and most computers. It is an explicit example of technological development motivated by basic science that impact on practical applications to improve our daily lives.

The Pico dos Dias Observatory (OPD, Brazópolis, state of Minas Gerais in the southeast region of Brazil) started its activities in 1980 using photographic plates and photomultipliers.  Its first CCD detector was received in 1988 (the first in Brazil), declaring the end of the “photographic era” in the science operations of the observatory.  The entire development until that point generated an impressive collection of equipment and accessories illustrating the accelerated advance of the observational astronomy in the last decades of 20th century and, consequently, of our capability to generate scientific data to help in the understanding of the physical phenomena in the Universe.

The historical collection related with the data storage is also interesting — from few Kbytes stored on paper or magnetic tapes in the beginning of the digitalization until the present situation, with gigabytes of data being generated every night and stored in a powerful RAID machine (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

Since 2011, we have been working on the documentation and preservation of the historical material of the observatory.  The collection that is being gathered from this process includes detectors, microdensitomers, photometers, filters, meteorological instruments as well as photographic plates and other methods of astronomical data collection.  In this work we will present the organization and first studies of this project.  We intend to create a virtual museum in order to give broad public access to this important chapter of the science development in Brazil.  The project is developed in a collaboration between two research unities of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), the National Laboratory of Astrophysics (LNA, Itajuba, MG, Brazil) which is responsible for the operation and management of OPD, and the Museum of Astronomy and Related Sciences (MAST, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil).


A brief history of OPD

The first conversations about the idea of creating a mountain-based astronomical observatory in Brazil date to the 1930s (ref. 2).  However, only in the 1960s did the project began to be take shape.  In particular, during 1961, Luiz Muniz Barreto and Abrahao de Moraes (respectively the director of National Observatory, Rio de Janeiro and director of the Astronomical and Geophysical Institute at the University of Sao Paulo, IAG/USP, São Paulo), attended the XI International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly at Berkeley (California, USA).  During the meeting they had the opportunity to visit the Lick, Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories.  Perched on the top of mountains, those observatories were examples of the trend in observational astronomy — to install telescopes on high and dry places, as distant as possible from the urban environment.  These conditions were essential to carry out observations with the required quality in what was then a new discipline – astrophysics.

From those visits was born in both astronomers the conviction that it was the moment to start to build a similar infrastructure in Brazil, fermenting the research in astrophysics and the training of specialized professionals at a graduate level.  Muniz Barreto (ref. 3) then invited a group of French astronomers to come to the country and give the first orientations for the process of site selection for the so called Brazilian Astrophysical Observatory (OAB).

Between 1965 and 1972, fifteen potential locations in the east-central region of Brazil, positioned at 20 to 30 degrees of southern latitude, were visited by a group of strongly motivated young undergraduate, mainly Physics, students (ref. 4).  The result was the selection of Pico dos Dias, located between the cities of Brazópolis and Piranguçu (Minas Gerais, Brazil) at an altitude of 1864 meters (Figure 1).

In September 1972, the financial resources were committed for OAB’s construction, the acquisition of a Perkin-Elmer telescope with a primary mirror of 1.60m and a coudé spectrograph, through an agreement between the Brazilian agency (Funding Authority for Studies and Projects — FINEP) and the National Observatory (ON).  In this agreement, ON would be in charge to provide and operate the new observational structure for the entire Brazilian astronomical community.

Fig. 1: A view of the Pico dos Dias before construction

Fig. 1:  A view of the Pico dos Dias before the construction of the observatory
(Credit: LNA collection/unknown author).


The first light of the telescope was finally registered on 21 April 1980 and, in an unprecedented event to the knowledge of the authors of this paper, the very first scientific light (using a photomultiplier camera) gave rise to a communication in the International Bulletin of Variable Stars (IBVS, ref. 5).  In 1985 the National Laboratory of Astrophysics (LNA) was created, as a department of ON, to operate the observatory.  At that time it was renamed as Pico dos Dias Observatory (OPD).  Since 1989, LNA is an independent research unit of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).

Some years after the start of the operations, two additional telescopes were installed at OPD (Figure 2).  The first one was a 0.6m Zeiss telescope, with manual pointing, installed in 1983.  It was received from Eastern Germany in the 1960s, probably as part of a 1969 agreement with the Brazilian Ministry of Education, known as MEC/Eastern Europe agreement (ref. 6).  The telescope and its dome were abandoned in an old hangar in Brazópolis, as reported in 1975 by the Veja weekly magazine in an article entitled “Astronomical Trash” (ref. 7).  The problem was a dispute between ON and the Valongo Observatory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (OV/UFRJ, ref. 8), that originally requested the equipment and also wanted to install it in Minas Gerais, for exclusive use of their astronomers.  In the end, the telescope was finally placed at OAB/OPD as a national facility, available for the entire Brazilian astronomical community.

The other instrument installed at OPD in 1992 was the 0.6m Boller & Chivens (B&C) telescope that was previously installed on Valinhos (São Paulo, SP) at the Abrahao de Moraes Observatory (OAM, University of São Paulo).  OAM site was already severely affected by light pollution and, additionally, the low altitude (approximately 800m) was not adequate for astrophysical measurements.  Together with the telescope, OPD also received a Boller & Chivens Cassegrain spectrograph of low and medium spectral resolution.

Fig. 2: An aerial view of the OPD with its three telescopes

Fig. 2: An aerial view of the OPD with its three telescopes: 0.6 m B&C (in the first plane),
1.6 m Perkin-Elmer (at the center) and the 0.6 m Zeiss telescope. A fourth telescope,
a commercial one with primary mirror of 0.4 m, was installed in the
beginning of 21st century to develop studies about remote and robotic control
(LNA collection / unknown photographer).


OPD was crucial for the development of Brazilian astronomy and still is an important facility, despite the degradation of the night sky and poor weather conditions for current requirements.  No more than a few PhDs in astronomy existed in Brazil at the very beginning of the project (in the 1960s) for the construction and beginning of its operations.  The availability of the observatory was a motivation for the addition of graduate courses and, nowadays, there are around 340 PhDs in the country (ref. 10).  The instrumentation of the observatory was evolving from the photographic plates and photomultipliers to the newer generation of semiconductor-based detectors, responding as quickly as possible to the changes in techniques used to do research in astronomy.  Therefore, the evolution of the OPD’s instrumentation reflected the revolution in the modes of generating astronomical data along the 20th century — from the complex process of  obtaining and analysis of images and spectra on photographic plates to the production of gigabytes of digital data in a single night.

With the increase of the Brazilian astronomical community and broadening of its research interests, it soon became clear that OPD had insufficient resources to provide the necessary observational infrastructure in the optical and near-infrared wavelengths (ref. 9).  As a result, since the 1990s, the country, represented by LNA, has been participating in international consortia for the construction and use of larger telescopes installed at sites of exceptional quality in the north of Chile and Mauna Kea (Hawaii, USA).  The scientific maturity and the governmental support to participate in these collaborations are certainly due to the pioneering projects of OAB/OPD (ref. 10).


Identification and documentation of the collection

It is unnecessary to remember how much science, technology and, in particular, our knowledge about the Universe has been evolving since the beginning of the 20th century.  In this work, we are facing questions related to the identification, documentation, communication and conservation of recent scientific heritage (ref. 11) motivated by this process of accelerated evolution.  First of all, the aesthetical aspect, that was important until the 19th century, lost its relevance in detriment of the technical optimization.  Due to the increase in the technological complexity of the astronomical instrumentation since the 20th century, the scientific instruments are no longer fully produced by commercial workshops, given the increasing complexity and the specific needs that arise from the advance of the knowledge.  Each completed instrument is unique, but not necessarily its individual components.

Also reflecting the rapid evolution of the technology, many instruments are modified during their lifetime or, worst, they are disassembled and the parts are reused in other instruments or applications (laboratory experiments, for example).  It is in this complex scenario that the objects which compose the LNA’s collection have to be identified, studied and preserved.

The adopted methodology to register or catalogue the LNA’s collection was defined from museological principles and it has already been used in similar works, including for instruments produced from 20th century.  The aim is to register objects that are no longer in use by the institution.  However, a new question emerged in the case of LNA: there are objects that are eventually used and soon they will not be in operation.  Considering the importance of some of these equipments and pieces, we decided to create a parallel register, in order to ensure in advance the preservation of those objects.

The representative example is a rapid photometer, called FOTRAP (Figure 3, ref. 12).  This instrument can be seen as a milestone of the national astronomy.  It was the first successful optical instrument developed and built in Brazil for the Pico dos Dias (ref. 13).  According to Barroso Jr.  (1999), it was a special moment for Brazilian astronomy: the Brazilian Astronomical Society had just been created (Sociedade Astronômica Brasileira, SAB), the number and size of graduate courses were growing in the country and there was a group of very strong and motivated people interested in the success of OPD.  FOTRAP’s project started in 1972; its first light was in 1982.  The instrument’s electronics were updated in 1988 (ref. 12).

Fig. 3: Right: FOTRAP, rapid photometer based on photomultipliers and optomechanical interface diagram

Fig. 3:  Right: FOTRAP, rapid photometer based on photomultipliers, to be
decommissioned in the near future (Credits: Zenilda F. Brasil/MAST).
Below: Diagram of the optomechanical interface from ref. 12.

Besides FOTRAP, other seven provisory registers were done until now.

To document the collection of OPD/LNA, a form was created to register each object included in the collection using, as a model, the procedures developed by MAST for its own collection and for other institutions (e.g., ref. 14).  The record has space for images and the following fields:

  • a)  Object name: the name by which the object is known;
  • b)  Object number: the chosen system has two parts after the institution’s name.  The
    first one is the year in which the object was registered at OPD/LNA.  The second one is a sequential number that cannot be interrupted.  For example: LNA 2011/001, LNA 2011/002, LNA 2011/003.  Only the year will change, without interrupting the sequence (e.g., LNA 2012/004, LNA 2012/005).  The provisory register follows the same criteria, with the addition of the capital letter “P” (e.g., LNA 2011/003-P).  The registration number is written on a non-adhesive label, hanging on every object through a wire;
  • c)  Other numbers: field to register other identifications of the object in the institution;
  • d)  Other names: field to register different names associated with the object.  It is usual that the same object has several names or it is known by the name of the
    manufacturer.  For example, the “Boller & Chivens” telescope;
  • e)  Production place/origin: country and city where the object was manufactured;
  • f)  Date of manufacture: possible or precise date of manufacture of the object,
    preceded by the century (e.g.  20th century, 1980; 20th century (beginning));
  • g)  Maker: name of the manufacturer or workshop that made the object.  This information can be obtained from the body of the object or from catalogues.  Note
    the increase of complexity of this topic in the case of recent heritage;
  • h)  Function: main function of the object;
  • i)  Material: description of the materials from which the object is composed, for
    example, iron, brass, glass, leather, wood;
  • j)  Description: the objective of this field is to make possible to identify and visualize
    the object without its physical presence.  The object should be characterized by its shape, color and technique.  All marks and inscriptions should be located, described and transcribed accurately.  They can be recorded, handwritten or painted;
  • k)  Dimensions: they need to be precise and the standard unit is the meter.  Height: vertical dimension from the base until the superior extremity of the object.  Length: measurement of the larger extension between the two laterals of an object.  Width: it is the smaller dimension compared with the length.  Diameter and thickness;
  • l)  Localization: description of the place and supporters where the object can be found at the institution.  For example, Instruments’ room (OPD)/MOB 001611;
  • m)  Status of conservation: the criteria ‘good’, ‘regular’ or ‘poor’ are used.  The observed alterations should be described;
  • n)  History: description of data relative to the history of the object, since it was created or manufactured and until it is considered as part of collection of the institution.  The activities in which the object was used should be described;
  • o)  Bibliography: indication of books or documents that helped providing information for any field of the form;
  • p)  Observations: in this field, any additional information about the object should be included;
  • q)  Contacts in the institution: name of the people who helped to fill the form for that object in particular;
  • r)  Registered by: signature of the responsible by the register;
  • s)  Date: date of the register.

The registry is in an initial stage of work with collections and it has not yet been possible to fill in all fields of the form.  Therefore, to further document the collection, long term research has to be supported.  In fact, the work to identify, study and document a collection should be continuous tasks.  Initially, the bibliography used for research is usually focused on the catalogs of instruments, many already scanned in specialized databases.  For recent heritage, it is also possible to collect documents like invoices or data sheets with the technical characterization of the object after manufacturing and scientific papers describing its use and the results obtained.

However, it is necessary to deepen the research in order to relate the objects of the collection with the studies of the so-called “material culture” of the science.  According to Granato, et al.  (2007, ref. 15): “The material culture of science is not the study of the object itself, a microscope or a voltmeter, for example, but of the different techniques and technologies contained in that object, by whom and for whom this object was constructed, for what purpose and if its use answered to the purpose for which it was originally built.  And yet, the interaction of these objects with the science that originated and the places and epochs where it was produced”.

It is clear that there are some additional difficulties in the documentation and study of the material culture associated with this collection and, in general, with the recent scientific heritage.  As we said before, the objects may be cannibalized through the time.  Clearly, the information about their uses can easily be lost, as well as the knowledge about the historical relevance of the objects in the scientific development of a given area.

Until now, 60 artefacts have been registered, besides the eight provisional, as described above.  A reserve storage was created in a room inside LNA’s library to adequately preserve the objects that can be dislocated from OPD to LNA’s headquarters, at Itajubá.


Classification of the objects of the collection

We are classifying the objects in seven categories, mainly according with the technique of data acquisition.  New categories can be included or modified following the improvement of our knowledge about the collection and its evolution through time.  The current categories are listed and exemplified below:

  • Photographic catalogue of images and spectra and their analysis: objects related with the acquisition and processing of the photography as astronomical detector like cameras, chassis, microdensitometers and plates;
  • Photoelectric measurements: for example, photomultiplier valves, refrigerated chambers, high voltage sources;
  • Digital acquisition of images and spectra: charged coupled devices (CCDs) and their chambers, controller plates, data storage;
  • Control of the telescopes: encoders, motors, GPS modules, controller plates;
  • Optical elements: oculars, filters, lenses and prisms, for example;
  • Commemorative objects: prizes and gifts received by the institution; and,
  • Uncertain: objects with multiple uses or that are not properly described by the categories created so far.  In general those objects deserve a more detailed analysis before being classified.

The collection should also be indexed and/or named according with the recently released Thesaurus of Scientific Collections in Portuguese in the near future (ref. 16).

In Figure 4, the number of objects identified in each category to date is shown.  Surprisingly, only one object that can be classified as optical element was identified until now.  We still expect to find unused filters, lenses, mirrors, opto-mechanical supports, tools to polish and cut pieces of glass and other materials, among others relevant objects that could be included in the category.

Figure 4: Number of objects identified in the LNA’s collection

Figure 4:  Number of objects identified in the LNA’s collection,
according to the current classification.


The collection also includes hundreds of photographs, registering the construction of the site and their buildings, telescopes production and installation.  375 images have been digitized so far.  Some examples are shown in Figure 5.  Interestingly there is a large collection of images showing the construction of the 1.6m telescope in the USA and registering each set of components individually, probably to facilitate the assembly and maintenance of the telescope in Brazil (Figure 6).  During the following years, the pointing control (ref. 17) of that telescope was modified several times, not only to circumvent technical problems, but also to update it given the development of computational resources.  The detailed documentation provided by those images should help in the future studies of the material culture of the related objects.

Figure 5: Some examples of images illustrating the process of construction of the observatory

Figure 5:  Some examples of images illustrating the process of construction
of the observatory, the telescope installation and the beginning of the operations
(credits: LNA collection/unknown author).

Figure 6: Examples of images produced at USA during the fabrication of the Perkin-Elmer telescope.

Figure 6: Examples of images produced at USA during the fabrication of the
Perkin-Elmer telescope. Several sets were registered individually with an
included legend, probably to facilitate the assembly at Pico dos Dias
(credit: LNA collection/unknown author).

Highlights of the collection

Apart from the already mentioned FOTRAP, we would like to highlight some other objects to demonstrate the diversity and complexity of the LNA’s collection.

The oldest identified objects are two theodolites, one of them assigned to the end of 19th century (Figure 7) and the other to the beginning of 20th century.  They came from the National Observatory and were not used at OPD.  It is possible that they came as decorative items, however, no documentation about those objects has been found to date.

Figure 7: Two theodolites are the oldest objects of the LNA’ s collection

Figure 7:  The oldest objects of the LNA’ s collection are two theodolites, one of themß
assigned to the end of 19th century (left) and the other to the beginning of 20th century (right)
(credit: Zenilda F. Brasil/MAST).


At the beginning of the operations, the Perkin-Elmer telescope had as peripheral instruments photomultipliers cameras, imaging cameras and the coudé spectrograph; the documenting of these last two pieces of equipment was done in photographic plates.  Photography was a costly technique for astronomy.  The observation starts with the preparation of the emulsion before the observation, exposure of the photographic plate to the night sky and the chemical treatment to reveal the images or spectra.  Instruments like the Carl Zeiss microdensitometer, shown in Figure 8, were used in order to extract the astronomical data from the plates.  Apart of the long and complex process, the efficiency of the photography as astronomical detector is very low: only 2 to 3% of the incident light is effectively registered.

Figure 8: Carl Zeiss microdensitometer with recorder

Figure 8: Carl Zeiss microdensitometer and its recorder (right)
(credit: Cláudia Penha/MAST)


The use of photography lasted until the 1980s, when a digital revolution took place in the astronomy: the introduction of solid-state detectors and, in particular, of the charged coupled devices (CCD).  This kind of detector is very efficient, detecting more than 90% of the incident light in some wavelengths, and offers a linear response.  OPD received its first instrument of this type in 1988 and the use of photography was immediately discontinued in the observatory.  The device is from Marconi (now e2V, a worldwide company headquartered in UK) and the cryogenic camera was produced by Wright Instruments (UK).  It is called WI009 (Figure 9), which indicates that the equipment was the ninth produced by that company, which no longer exists.  Fully operational, the camera is no longer in use because of the availability of larger and more efficient detectors and the obsolescence of the control plate, limiting its integration with modern computers.

Figure 9: First CCD and cryogenic camera in Brazil.

Figure 9:  Views of the chip and the cryogenic camera of the first CCD detector in Brazil.
The chip is from the Marconi company (now called e2V) and the camera was constructed
by Wright Instruments, in UK (credit: Tânia Dominici/MAST).


The collection also has at least one object from the 21st century.  The Eucalyptus spectrograph, shown in Figure 10 and described in detailed in ref. 18; it was not a story of success.  Only three refereed papers resulted, at least partially, from data obtained with that instrument (ref. 19), which operated between 2003 and 2010.  Eucalyptus was characterized as a prototype for the construction of SIFS (SOAR Integral Field Spectrograph, ref. 20), a first generation instrument for the SOAR telescope, whose construction was part of the Brazilian counterparts in the consortium to use the 4.1m telescope at Cerro Pachón (Chile).  Eucalyptus is an Integral Field Unit (IFU) spectrograph, a kind of instrument designed to obtain spatially resolved spectra of astronomical objects.  The light was collected by a matrix of 512 optical fibres with core of 50μm. A microlens array was glued in the entrance of the fibres to ensure the adequate focal ratio.  The resulting field of view on the sky was (15 x 30) arc seconds, which is large when comparing with similar instruments of the same epoch.  The light was transmitted along 12m through the optical fibre cable to feed a bench spectrograph.  For this, the polished extremities of fibres were linearly arranged as a slit to illuminate the collimator over the optical bench.  This spectrograph has a quasi-Littrow optical design (ref. 21).

Fig. 10 Eucalyptus spectrograph with optical bench where the slit focus on the optical fibre on a relief box

Fig. 10:  Partial views of the Eucalyptus spectrograph. In the above image, the optical bench,
where the slit is constituted by the optical fibres linearly arranged, and the relief box for
the fibres (credit: Carlos Erli/LNA). Below: the foreoptics in its support when not in use
(credit: Maria L.N.M. Loureiro/MAST).


In reality, an instrument like that would never be planned specifically for OPD due to the quality of the site: a mean seeing of about 1.5 arc seconds and an increasing sky brightness due to light pollution.  In other words, OPD does not have enough science cases for an IFU instrument which is usually used to study extended sources, like stars with disks, nebulae or galaxies.  Eucalyptus was constructed to give some expertise in applications of optical fibres in astronomy to the team responsible for SIFS development.  Due to the delay in both projects, Eucalyptus was left unfinished at OPD and the staff of the observatory improvised solutions to put it in operation.  This can be verified by analyzing the object, where it is possible to see, for example, a paper box improvised to receive an illumination source for some of the calibration measurements.  The result was a very inefficient instrument, of complex installation and operation.  The data obtained was also not easy to process and understand.  Hence, many astronomers who used Eucalyptus were not able to produce scientific and publishable results.  Because of all these difficulties, the spectrograph was decommissioned in 2010, following the recommendation of a workgroup which elaborated a document about the future of OPD (ref. 22).

In its turn, SIFS was to be available for the first scientific light of the SOAR telescope which occurred in 2005.  The instrument was delivered to Chile in 2009 and, as of this writing, it is not yet operational.  We are saying that Eucalyptus was not a story of success based on the facts that it was not a productive instrument at OPD or implicated in the delivery of an operational SIFS on time.  However, Eucalyptus’ development was of vital importance to qualify people and to establish an infrastructure of laboratories and workshops at LNA, needed to start to have a significant involvement in projects of high-technology instruments for telescopes of medium and large sizes.  The analysis of the problems and challenges of both projects can also result in a fruitful experience for strategic planning of investments by the Brazilian astronomical community and the project management of current and future instruments.

A question that emerges is how to register a complex instrument like Eucalyptus.  First of all, some parts used in it were shared with other peripherals, as the diffraction gratings (600 lines per mm or 1800 lines/mm), originally components of the coudé spectrograph, and the CCD camera, compatible with many other applications at the observatory.  Therefore, the Eucalyptus being incorporated to LNA’s collection is an incomplete instrument.  Apart from the spectrograph bench, without the diffraction gratings and detector, the instrument is composed of the 12m cable of optical fibres with a relief box, the foreoptics with a proper support, a mask of holes to evaluate the response of each fibre, some specific tools and an illumination source to produce calibration images that we call “the internal flat field”.  Taking in consideration all these factors, the strategy to properly document and catalogue the spectrograph is still in discussion.


Exhibition of the collection

Some items of the collection have been exhibited at the entrance of the auditorium in the LNA’s headquarters.  The objective of these small exhibitions is to involve the staff of the institution with its history.  School visits are also frequent for other activities and additionally the students can have contact with some scientific instruments of the collection.

However, there is no additional physical space to expand the exhibition and, at least in the next few years, LNA will not be able to build a suitable location to receive the public to see the collection.  Because of this limitation, we decided to create what we are calling the “Virtual Museum of LNA”.

The virtual space will allow broad and unrestricted access to the collection, the history associated with it and the knowledge generated through its use.  Places for science popularization are still rare and not popular the Brazil.  According with Moreira (2006), science museums are concentrated in a few regions of the country, as a result of the inequality of income distribution.  The situation has been changing in the last few years, but only about 1% of Brazilian population is visiting such places, compared with 25% of the population in some European countries (ref. 23).  Therefore, the creation of a popularization space in the internet, “without walls”, can be an entryway to the universe of science museums.  To illustrate the potential of reach, in a survey carried out during 2013, it was concluded that 50.1% of the population (of more than 10 years old) is using the internet in Brazil, corresponding to approximately 80.7 million people (ref. 24).

Some interesting possibilities emerge from this approach, as to include in the digital exhibition at least one important instrument that no longer belongs to LNA.  The blink comparator, shown in Figure 11, was transferred from OPD to MAST in 1998.  This equipment was originally owned by ON but it was used at OPD, returning to complete the ON collection (whose custody belongs to the museum).  In the Virtual Museum, this object can be part of the presentation about the photographic era of astronomy, taking into account its relevant use in some research areas.  This is an important property of the virtual space and an advantage when compared with classical museums: it is possible to piece together what is scattered in space and/or time, and even objects that are registered but no longer exist.  The Virtual Museum of LNA should be available for the public during 2015.

Figure 11: Carl Zeiss blink comparator

Figure 11:  Carl Zeiss blink comparator. Originally owned by ON, it was incorporated
in the MAST’ s collection in 1998. Given the relevance to complete the set of
photographic instruments of LNA, the comparator can be included in the
virtual museum. (credit: Jaime Acioli/MAST)


Conclusions and perspectives

OPD was contemporaneous of the accelerated revolution in the generation of astronomical data since the beginning of the 20th century and, in particular, in the last four decades.  The LNA’s collection reflects this development.  The diversity of objects in the collection that has been identified, with theirs applications and scientific results through the time represents a challenging set for studies of material culture.

In this work, we are also facing the discussion related to the identification, documentation, communication and conservation of recent heritage.  Some objects are not of trivial documentation, as the case of Eucalyptus, described here.  The history of this instrument also illustrates as a critical review of how more recent items of LNA’s collection can help in the strategic planning of the institution and to guide future investments by Brazilian astronomical community.

LNA’s mission, as a national laboratory, is to provide for the Brazilian astronomical community the observational infrastructure at optical and near-infrared wavelengths trough the management and operation of telescopes, building astronomical instrumentation and, of course, by communicating the public about its activities.  However, even at regional level, LNA is poorly known by the population.  We expect that the constitution of the collection, the studies about it and the development of the Virtual Museum will help to change this situation, giving national visibility to the LNA’s activities.

In particular, OPD is still a productive astronomical facility and the main risk for the operations is the increase of the light pollution in its surroundings.  Because of that, people living around OPD need to know its relevant history, well represented by the institutional collection, in order to help us to preserve the observatory for the next generations.



We would like to acknowledge the financial support from the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).  This work would not be possible without the collaboration of LNA’s staff.  Many of them are working in the institution since the beginning of the construction of the observatory.  In particular, we are thankful to the collaboration of Geraldo Raimundo Machado, who has been guiding the MAST team during the technical visits.  We also thank Drs. Albert Bruch and Bruno Castilho, respectively the former and present Director of LNA, by the institutional support for the activities included in the LNA-MAST agreement and Patricia M. Siqueira, who collaborated with the MAST team during some of the technical visits.  The authors are grateful to Dr. Marcus Granato (MAST) by his reading of the manuscript and several suggestions for references.

 Red divider

References and Notes

1.  Photometric nights are those near New Moon, therefore dark nights, without clouds, with low humidity and a stable atmosphere, with minimal scintillation observed in the stars.  Generally speaking, this scintillation is what astronomers call ‘seeing’ and, quantitatively, should have less than one arc second.

2.  Videira, A.A.P., História do Observatório Nacional: a persistente história de uma identidade científica, Rio de Janeiro, Observatório Nacional, p.42, 2007.

3.  According to Carlos A.O. Torres (LNA) “The [economic and scientific] situation in Brazil at 1960s was terrible…  Muniz Barreto was a visionary…  A man who could not measure the size of the step he was taking”, in Workshop OPD, SOAR e Gemini – Passado, Presente e Futuro.  Video available at: (in Portuguese), 2010.

4.  Maciel, W.J.,  “A escolha do sítio do ponto de vista dos índios, Boletim da SAB, 14, no. 2, (1994), pp.64-75.  Available at (in Portuguese).

5.  Busko, I.C.; Jablonski, F.J.; Quast, G.R. & Torres, C.A.O., IBVS (1980), 1897, 1.

6.  The history commonly disseminated in the astronomical community is that the telescope was received as payment for coffee.  However, the acquisition of scientific instruments from Eastern Germany seems to be had done, in fact, in the context of the agreement signed in September, 1969 among Brazil, Eastern Germany and Hungary.  It foresees the purchase of scientific and teaching instruments.  The text of the agreement is available at (in Portuguese):  More details can be found in Oliveira, M.A.C. & Granato, M., “A trajetória dos equipamentos do Acordo MEC/Leste Europeu no ensino e pesquisa de astrometria no Observatório do Valongo”, in: Anais do III Seminário Internacional Cultura de Material e Patrimônio de C&T.  Org. Marcus Granato, Marcio Ferreira Rangel – Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Astronomia e Ciências Afins, 2014, p. 41-55.

7.  Article published, in Portuguese, in the Brazilian weekly magazine Veja, entitled “Lixo Astronômico” (“Astronomical trash”), 362 (1975), p.20.

8.  Valongo Observatory was originally founded in 1881 as the Astronomical Observatory of Polytechnic school, installed at Santo Antonio Hill (Rio de Janeiro).  In 1924 it was transferred for the Valongo Hill.  An undergraduate astronomy course was created there in 1958.  Finally, in 1967 Valongo Observatory and the course were incorporated to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).  More details can be found in: Oliveira, M.A.C. de, Granato, M., “The historical instruments from Valongo Observatory, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro”, University Museums and Collections Journal, 5 (2012), p.53-64.

9.  The atmosphere is transparent for the light emitted by the astronomical objects only in a small range approximately between 360nm to 110mm, that we can call the optical (including the light that human eyes can detect) and near-infrared wavelengths; and 10nm to 100m, the radio window.  In those spectral ranges the observations can be carried out from the ground.

10.  In the north of Chile, currently Brazil can have observational time at Gemini South telescope (primary mirror of 8m), SOAR (4m) and in the ESO telescopes (several sizes and types).  The current agreement of SOAR allows eventual use of the Blanco telescope (4m, CTIO).  In the Northern Hemisphere, particularly at Mauna Kea (Hawaii, USA), the Brazilian astronomical community can have access to Gemini North (8m) and CFHT (3.6m).  Also as a result of the Gemini agreement, Brazil will eventually have access to Subaru (8m) and Keck (2 x 10m) telescopes.  For a revision, see: Barbuy, B. & Maciel, W., “Astronomy in Brazil”, Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy, Vol.2, Edited by Andre Heck, Venngeist, Duttlenheim (2013) pp.99-118.

11.  An interesting discussion about recent heritage can be found in Brenni, P., “Trinta anos de atividade.  Instrumentos científicos de interesse histórico”, in: Caminho para as estrelas: reflexões de um museu, org.  A.M. Ribeiro de Andrade, MAST, 2007, and also in the reference documents that have been produced by the Universeum Working Group of “Recent Heritage of Science in the University” available at

12.  Jablonski, F., Baptista, R., Barroso Jr, J. et al., PASP, 106 (1994), pp. 705 & 1172.

13.  Barroso Júnior, J., Instrumentação astronômica no Brasil: o fotômetro rápido do LNA-FOTRAP: notas inéditas.  Rio de Janeiro: ON, 1999, 29pp.

14.  MAST had already worked on the identification of scientific instruments to compose the collection of several institutions like the National Institute of Technology (INT), Brazilian Center of Physics Research (CBPF), Institute of Nuclear Engineering (IEN) and the Valongo Observatory, among others.  In this case, a catalog can be found in de Campos, J.A.S. (Org.), Nader, R. (Org.), Oliveira, M.A.C. (Org.), Bello, K. (Org.), Santos, C.P. (Org.) & Lorenz-Martins, S. (Org.), “Coleção de Instrumentos científicos do Observatório do Valongo”, 2010, 119pp., UFRJ.

15.  Gourdaroulis, Y. (1994) “Can the History of instrumentation tell us anything about Scienctific Practice?”, in K. Gavroglu et al. (eds.) Trends in the Historiography of Science, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic publisher; Granato, M., Penha dos Santos, C., Furtado, J.L. & Gomes, L.P., “Objetos de ciência e tecnologia como fontes documentais para a história das ciências: resultados parciais”.  In: VIII Encontro Nacional de Pesquisa em Ciência da Informação, 2007, Salvador.  Anais do VIII Encontro Nacional de Pesquisa em Ciência da Informação.  Brasília: ANCIB, 2007. p.3.

16.  The project “Thesaurus of Scientific Collections in Portuguese” is collaborative work between Brazilian and Portuguese institutions to standardize and control the nomenclature in the area.  It can be found at:

17.  The motors, encoders, hardware and software to control the pointing and tracking of the telescopes had to be changed through the years to get better precision, to circumvent technical problems and with the improvement of the computational resources.

18.  de Oliveira, A.C., Barbuy, B., Campos, R.P. et al., “The Eucalyptus spectrograph, in: Instrument Design and Performance for Optical/Infrared Ground-based Telescopes”.  Edited by Iye, Masanori, Moorwood, Alan F.M., Proceedings of the SPIE4841 (2003), pp.1417-1428.

19.  Publications based on Eucalyptus’ data that were communicated to LNA: Pereira, A., Magalhães, A.M. & Araújo, F.X., A&A, 495 (2009), #1, 195; Pereyra, A., Araújo, F.  X, Magalhães, A.M. et al., A&A, 508 (2009), #3, 1337; Steiner, J.E., Oliveira, A.S., Torres, C.  A.O. & Damineli, A., A&A, 471 (2007), #2, L25.

20.  Lepine, J.R.D., de Oliveira, A.  C., Figueredo, M.V., et al., “SIFUS: SOAR integral field unit spectrograph”, in: Instrument Design and Performance for Optical/Infrared Ground- based Telescopes.  Edited by Iye, M., Moorwood, A.F.M., Proceedings of the SPIE, 4841 (2003), p.1086-1095.  The original name of the instrument was SIFUS, but it was renamed as SIFS some years ago.

21.  In this design a single optical element (like a lens or a doublet) works as collimator and imaging element.  With this configuration is possible to construct smaller and cheaper spectrographs.

22.  The document, in Portuguese, entitled “Estratégias para o futuro do OPD” (“Strategies for OPD’s future”) can be found at:

23.  Moreira, I. de Castro, “Inclusão Social”, Brasília, 1 (2006), #2, p. 11-16.

24.  These data were obtained in the 2013 National Survey by Residence Sample (PNAD, in Portuguese), carried out annually by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE,  The summary of conclusion can be found in the following document (in Portuguese):,-57,253