The Astronomical Observatory and Planetarium

Launching of the first artificial earth satellite aroused deep interest in Bulgaria and soon many towns established clubs connected with space issues. This enthusiasm spread out in Varna too and in 1960 an astronautics and astronomy club was organized in the city. The idea of establishing an astronomical observatory was developed in 1962, after the visit of the Russian astronaut German Titov.

Varna Municipality resolution of 1964 cleared the way for building an observatory the way it looked like until recently. The author of that architectural project was architect Kamen Goranov. In the very process of construction works plans had been changed and a planetarium (star hall) was added to the main structure. On 22 May 1968 the first astronomical complex started operating in Bulgaria. It was named after the Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus and included an astronomical observatory, planetarium, and a Foucault pendulum tower. There is a monument of Copernicus in front of the planetarium entrance and its authors are prof. L. Dalchev and P. Atanassov. 

Two revolving observation domes have been fixed on the roof of the observatory's third storey and they have been initially equipped with an 80/1200 mm refractor (refracting telescope) and a larger Cassegrain 150/2250 mm system reflecting telescope. Later on, in 1990, these instruments were replaced by Zeiss 100/1000 mm refractor brought in from the town of Gabrovo. The observation platform is equipped with a camera for photographing NAFA 3C/25 satellites and portable telescopes and T3K binoculars are used for open shows. 

The planetarium to the observatory is the first facility of its kind in Bulgaria. Its dome reaches 10.5 m in diameter and ZKP - Zeiss Kleinplanetarium projection device (called planetarium) was imported from the former German Democratic Republic. The lecturer can control it from his own control panel and up to 5500 stars can be projected on the dome. In addition to it other projectors can be used to demonstrate the progress of the planets among the stars and a special device can show the solar system as if seen from a distance of 5 billion km.

Foucault pendulum is suspended in the planetarium tower and it manifests rotation of the Earth around its axis. In a small hall below visitors can watch the swinging of the pendulum. In the first years following the building of the complex a comet finder was also installed on the observation platform.

During the autumn of 1998 the municipal council decides on reconstruction of the building of the planetarium. Full substitutions of the thermo- and hydro isolation, as well as the water and power installation are planned. The work is slowed down, as some old plans are missing. The reconstruction faces the fact that when built in the 60s, not all construction norms were kept, and now almost only the walls are left. The expectations were that the renewed astronomy complex will meet the large number of visitors during the Sun eclipse in 1999, however financial difficulties delay the project for four years.

Finally, on Aug 15th 2002 the renewed building of the Planetarium “Nicolaus Copernicus” was founded. This is a very important event for the Day of Varna, and in the ceremony, in which participants are the Prime minister Simeon Saks Coburg Gotha, the city mayor and regional governor, deputies, businessmen and many citizens.

The new project suggests a slight change in the outlook of the observatory. The general architecture plan is unchanged, but the author of the project – arch. G. Savakov, brings modern nuances. The top of the tower of Foucault now has the form of semi-sphere, open to the sky. The Foucault’s pendulum is at a higher level, convenient for observation from visitors, both in- and outside the buildung. For adaptation of vision before a tour the windows overlooking the sea are replaced from a wall of figures; the lobby is vaguely lighted. Under the tower are the computer hall, library and lecture hall. The rooms are widened, and the new fa?ade creates the new attractive look of the building.  The decorative lights in the night make the observatory one of the accent spots of the Seaside garden.

Since 1971 there has been a branch of the observatory in the village of Avren, located 35 km away from Varna. The dome of the building there is 5.2 m in diameter and below it a Cassegrain 500/8900 cm telescope has been installed.

Besides the planetarium located in the astronomical complex in the Sea Park of Varna, there is a second one in the vicinity of the Naval Academy. It is located in the middle of a park area. Its dome reaches 18 m in diameter and it accommodates 120 seats which makes it the biggest planetarium on the Balkan Peninsula. It was officially opened on 3 March 1986. 

The projecting device RFP-DP is of a very high quality and allows for possibilities to represent various astronomical events. It is installed on four axes: a polar axis to demonstrate the 24 hour rotation of the sky; an ecliptic axis to show the paths of the Sun, Moon, the planets, as well as the static stars; a horizontal axis to change the latitude and a vertical axis for the horizontal rotation of the sky. This gives the operator the chance to project the appearance of the sky and various astronomical events as if they were observed from any point on Earth or space.

The planetarium close to the Naval Academy is used not only to teach cadets in "Navigation astronomy", but it is also open for public shows. The audience is offered four thematic sessions in nine working languages. 

Special thanks to Esin Halid for the translation of this page.

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