Are you a born stargazer? Or are you simply curious to see how your zodiac sign stretches across the sky? Whether you’re a passionate astronomy lover or a star novice who wants to grasp some basic facts about the constellations, Florence offers the chance to get a bit closer to the cosmos. On days when you need a break from all that painting and sculpture, try taking a visit to somewhere over the rainbow. A trip to the city’s Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica and the Arcetri Astrophysics Observatory may prove just the ticket to undiscovered skies. Although both institutions have separate backgrounds and functions, they cooperate closely and share the common goal of promoting science education in the Florentine area.
The Zeiss ZKP2 planetarium is undoubtedly the foundation’s greatest attraction: with its 8-meter diameter dome and state-of-the-art projection system, it can reproduce panoramic views of the cosmos, offering star-watchers an extraordinary opportunity to explore noteworthy astronomical phenomena. thanks to its high-tech digital apparatus, the system simulates the movement of heavenly bodies, at any time of the night and from any latitude of the earth. Neo-astronomers can also have a bird’s-eye view of the night skies from above and admire the flux of planets, the stars, the sun and the moon. The planetarium provides lectures held by experts and astronomers from the nearby Astrophysics Observatory. They deal with astronomy related mythology, art history and literature.
A visit to the planetarium includes animation workshops, where visitors can approach scientific topics from a more experimental point, and participate in hands-on activities that are tailored to various types of aficionados, according to their age and academic level. In the gallery located across from the entrance, the foundation also houses a permanent exhibition that includes a rich collection of fossils, minerals, machines, scientific devices and astronomical instruments.
The Arcetri Astrophysics Observatory, situated on the top of a hill near Florence, is one of the major reference points for astrophysics in Italy. Built in 1872 as a branch of the Florentine Museum of Physics and Natural Science, it was designed as a centre for astronomical observations. For this purpose nothing seemed more suitable than the evocative hills close by the house of the famous 17th-century scientist, Galileo. Over the last few decades, the centre has concentrated more and more attention on the field of astrophysics due to recent scientific developments in this sector. The centre became a self-governing board in 1926 and developed considerably throughout the 20th century. Arcetri fi nally became part of the Italian National Astrophysics Institute in 2001.
Under the directorship of Marco Salvati, Arcetri is currently involved in important research including the study of the solar system, the origin of the planets and the formation of stars and galaxies in early stages of evolution. These studies are primarily based on observations made in major laboratories throughout the world located in remote places, such as the deserts of Chile and Arizona. In this regard, it’s well worth mentioning that the Arcetri group played a leading role in the joint LBT project, which saw the creation of the largest binocular telescope in the Northern Hemisphere (12 meter diameter), completed in Arizona in 2004. Florentine astronomers are also making fundamental contributions in the field of radio astronomy, an alternative and fairly new ‘channel’ which aims to receive information from the cosmos.
Alongside its various research projects, the observatory constantly organises programmes and events to promote and divulge scientific culture and thousands of people per year visit the facility. Guided tours, workshops, visits to the planetarium, exhibits and special events for children are regularly organised throughout the year as well as the weekly meetings for observations – weather permitting. Last but not least, the Arcetri group has been invited to participate in another outstanding project for the year 2009, known as ‘The Year of Astronomy’. It will be in charge of building a multi-functional centre for science that will be housed in the Torre del Gallo, an ancient castle a few steps from both Galileo’s house and the observatory. As we look forward to an entire year dedicated to Astronomy, let’s take a few nights to go out ‘to see the stars again’ – a riveder le stele, just like Dante says.
(Translation: ‘To see the stars again’, from Dante, Divina Commedia, Inf. XXXIV)
For More Information:
Planetario di Firenze- Fondazione di Scienza e Tecnica
Osservatorio Astrofisica di Arreti