NIHIL ULTRA: Nothing Beyond

St. Xavier's College Restores the 150 years old Observatory

Posted on: 10th March 2014

At a time when St. Xavier's College Kolkata is busy expanding its campus, another new addition to the present campus deserves much applause. On 10th March 2014 the re-commissioned astronomy observatory and a solar observatory were inaugurated by Fr. Felix Raj SJ, principal of the college and were dedicated to the memory of Fr. Eugene Lafont, favourite teacher of Acharya Jadish Chandra Bose. Fr. Lafont introduced Bose to Science.

This observatory is one of the oldest in the sub-continent. The renowned scientist and professor of St. Xavier's College, Father Eugene Lafont, set it up in 1865. Father Lafont was known as "Father of Modern Science in India." This observatory hit the headlines of all newspapers in November 1865 for predicting a sever cyclone and saving hundreds of lives. It was listed with the Observatories of the world and had close collaboration with the Observatory of Vatican. While it is the oldest in the country, it is definitely the oldest and biggest set up in an educational campus.

Fr. Felix Raj expressed his gratitude to FIST. He said, "We are grateful to the department of science and technology and the Fund for Improvement of Science and Technology (FIST) that enabled us to re-commission the observatory."

Mr. Shailen Aggrahari the Managing Director of Astro Creations and Impex, A Bangalore based company who was hired for the project looked satisfied with their efforts.
"When we took on the project we knew we would have to overhaul the old structure while retaining its heritage," said a smiling Mr. Aggrahari who with his team took 10 months to complete the project.

This Observatory was out of commission for almost 8 years. The present principal decided to rebuild the Observatory by adding a new dome and a modern telescope. Now it has been completely renovated with an additional Sliding Roof Observatory. This renovation was done at the cost of more than Rs. 1 crore. The present dome is bigger than the original one with a diameter of 24 ft and a height if 15 ft with a 14 inch Celestron telescope making it the largest in the country.

It rotates on both sides and has a slit opening that increases the telescope's field of view. The observatory has an advanced hemispherical rotating motorized dome which will be used for night observations. The smaller solar observatory with an electrically operated retractable sliding roof will be used for daytime observations. This unit has an experiment hall and an adjoining computer lab for analysis and documentation.

"We would like to use it for observation on variable stars, CCD Caliberation and Photometry, atmospheric extinction studies and solar observations. It will also be used for B. Sc. and M. Sc. students with specialization in Astrophysics as well as for exchange programmes and workshops with other Jesuit colleges and observatories," said Fr. Raj. He also added that the observatory would be open to school and college students and also to public on Sundays. The rural students with whom the college works closely would also be given an exposure to the observatory.

The Principal will be the Ex Officio Director of the Observatory. Dr. Shibaji Banerjee has been appointed as the Assistant Director who will coordinate the Observatory activities.


Cheryl Francis
Director, Dept of Social Work
St. Xavier's College