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Pic du Midi de Bigorre

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Title: Pic du Midi de Bigorre  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hautes-Pyrénées, Lannemezan, List of astronomical observatories, Pic du Midi, Bernard Lyot Telescope
Collection: Astronomical Observatories in France, Mountains of Hautes-Pyrénées, Mountains of the Pyrenees
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Pic du Midi de Bigorre

Pic du Midi de Bigorre
Elevation 2,877 m (9,439 ft)
Pic du Midi de Bigorre is located in Pyrenees
Pic du Midi de Bigorre
Hautes-Pyrénées, France
Range Pyrenees

The Pic du Midi de Bigorre or simply Pic du Midi (altitude 2,877 m (9,439 ft)) is a mountain in the French Pyrenees famous for its astronomical observatory, the Observatoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre (Pic du Midi Observatory), part of the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées (Midi-Pyrénées Observatory).

The observatory

Pic du Midi Observatory

Construction of the observatory began in 1878 under the auspices of the Société Ramond,[1][2] but by 1882 the society decided that the spiralling costs were beyond its relatively modest means, and yielded the observatory to the French state, which took it into its possession by a law of 7 August 1882. The 8 metre dome was completed in 1908, under the ambitious direction of Benjamin Baillaud. It housed a powerful mechanical equatorial reflector which was used in 1909 to formally discredit the Martian canal theory (histoire du Pic du Midi de Bigorre). In 1946 Mr. Gentilli funded a dome and 60 cm telescope, and in 1958 a spectrograph was installed.

A 106-centimetre (42-inch) telescope was installed in 1963 funded by NASA and was used to take detailed photographs of the surface of the Moon in preparation for the Apollo missions. In 1965 the astronomers Pierre and Janine Connes were able to formulate a detailed analysis of the composition of the atmospheres on Mars and Venus, based on the infrared spectra gathered from these planets. The results showed atmospheres in chemical equilibrium. This served as a basis for James Lovelock, a scientist working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, to predict that those planets had no life - a fact that would be proven and scientifically accepted years after.[3]

A 2 metre telescope, known as the Bernard Lyot Telescope was placed at the observatory in 1980 on top of a 28 metre column built off to the side to avoid wind turbulence affecting the seeing of the other telescopes. It is the largest telescope in France. The observatory also has a coronograph, which is used to study the solar corona. A 60-centimetre telescope (the Gentilly's T60 telescope) is also located at the top of Pic du Midi. Since 1982 this T60 is dedicated to amateur astronomy and managed by a group of amateurs, called association T60.


There are currently at the top:

  • The 55 cm telescope (Robley Dome);
  • The 60 cm telescope (T60 Dome, welcoming amateur astronomers via the Association T60);
  • The 106 cm telescope (Gentilli Dome) dedicated to observations of the solar system;
  • The 2 metre telescope or Bernard Lyot Telescope (used with a new generation stellar spectropolarimeter);
  • The coronograph HACO-CLIMSO (studies of the solar corona);
  • The bezel Jean Rösch (studies of the solar surface)


  • The Charvin dome, which sheltered a photoelectric coronometer (which studied the Sun);
  • The Baillaud dome, reassigned to the museum in 2000 and which houses a 1:1 scale model coronograph.

The observatory is located at , placing it very close to the Greenwich meridian. The observatory was featured in the video game Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 under a different name. The observatory in-game is said to be located on the fictional Pic des Pyrenees.

Saturn's moon Helene (Saturn VII or Dione B), was discovered by Pierre Laques and Jean Lecacheux in 1980 from ground-based observations at Pic du Midi Observatory,[4] and named Helene in 1988. It is also a trojan moon of Dione.

The observatory lent its name to Asteroid 20488 Pic-du-Midi discovered in 1999.

Panoramic view toward south from the observatory
The aerial tramway to the observatory


  1. ^ History of the observatory on the Pic du Midi de Bigorre,, accessed 22 December 2009
  2. ^ Davoust, Emmanuel. "A hundred years of science at the Pic du Midi Observatory".  
  3. ^ a b Lovelock, James. The Vanishing Face of Gaia. Basic Books, 2009, p. 162. ISBN 978-0-465-01549-8
  4. ^ Satellites of SaturnIAUC 3496: 1980 July 31 (discovery)

External links

  • Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées
  • Profile of climb from Col du Tourmalet on
  • A night on the "Vaisseaux d'Etoiles" (Starship) du Pic du Midi - Photo gallery
  • (French) Histoire de l'observatoire du Pic du Midi (Observatory history)
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