News & features
History of Writing
Poem of the week
Pic du Midi
For my 60th birthday friends and family offered me a night in an astonomical observatory in the Pyranees. I started on Friday, February 27, 2009, by taking the fast train from Paris to Tarbes (via Poitiers, Bordeau, Pau and Lourdes). From Tarbes I rented a car and drove 60 kilometers to the ski station at La Mongie.
From La Mongie to the observatory it is straight up by two cable lifts.
The first cable lift goes up 550 meters from the ski station.
You can see the observatory at the summit, but we aren't there yet.
The first cable lift ends half way up. Skiers can get off here and enjoy the slopes.
From here it's another 550 meters straight up on the second lift to the observatory at a 45 degree angle.
Now we are almost there. My legs are shaking, but the domes reassure me that I'll soon be on solid ground. People with cardiac problems are encouraged to distain from this trip. Also the lift of over 1100 meters in less than 20 minutes is not for the faint hearted or those with health problems.
Pic du Midi de Bigorre, 2877 meters (9439 feet).
View from the top looking West with the first building (on the right) dating from the 1880's.
The founders General Champion de Nansouty and Engineer Vaussenat who built the first weather station (1873 - 1878).
View from the top looking south to Spain and Saragosa.
View from the top from my room looking South. Single and double rooms, this is a first class, but Spartan, hotel. Water is distilled from the snow and collected from rain, but in short supply. There is a clinic, as the station can be isolated for up to two weeks at a time. The lift is closed as soon as wind speed exceeds 70 kilometers per hour.
View from the top looking NorthEast towards Toulouse.
View from the top looking East with the coronograph (dome on the right).
The happy visitors garthering on the terrace for a collation. The domes here can be rented by amateur astronomers.
Evening activities include getting used to the altitude and a visit to the museum.
We had a fabulous three course meal preceeded and followed by much traditional revelry.
Sunset, Friday, February 27, 2009.
We visited the museum then moved onto the terrace to observe through a 50mm reflector and binoculars until the early hours of the morning.
The 2.03 meter Bernard Lyot reflector was in service during the night. We were able to visit the next morning. In spite of the low temperatures, the observatory is refrigerated to keep the air currents from disturbing images.
The spectro-polarimeter attached to the telescope can map the magnetic field of a star. Only two sites do this type of work, the Pic du Midi and in Hawaii.
Dawn light on the radio transmitter.
Lots of people are up to see the sun rize.
Sunrize Saturday, February 28, 2009.
Sunrize on the peaks to the West.
The coronograph dome at the east end of the observatory structure. My room is on the second floor.
The coronograph has four separate instruments mounted on the same axis for observing the sun.
The coronograph monitors the sun every day (weather permitting) and maintains an online record of solar activity.
You can get more info at: http://www.picdumidi.com