Asia, Africa, and Australia: The Great Mission Observatories(1814–2000)

  • Augustín Udías
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 286)


With the exception of the observatories in Australia and India, which had characteristics akin to those in North America and Europe, observatories in Asia, the Middle East and Africa have some common features derived from their being in mission countries. These observatories were part of the apostolic work in non-Christian and mostly undeveloped countries. They were conceived of as an important witness of the work of missionaries in contributing to the progress of these countries and to the harmony between modern science and Christian faith. The scientific prestige of the observatories was considered to be an important factor in spreading the Christian message. In this sense, they were a continuation of the work of Jesuit scientists who in the 17th and 18th centuries had worked in observatories in China and India. Verbiest, one of the directors of the Imperial Observatory in Beijing had already expressed a similar view, saying that Christian faith entered China helped by the hand of astronomy (Chapter 1). In the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, in many countries, Jesuit observatories were the only existing scientific institutions, and remained so for many years. In them, Jesuits laid the foundations for many state observatories and institutions which developed much later. For this reason, most of the Jesuit observatories in these countries covered a wide variety of subjects such as astronomy, solar physics, meteorology, seismology, and geomagnetism. In the practical aspects of these sciences these observatories offered, among other services, accurate time keeping, support of geodesic measurements and cartography, weather forecasts especially of hurricanes and typhoons, and evaluation of earthquake damage and assessment of the risk of earthquakes. These were invaluable services in countries to a great extent undeveloped. To these services we have to add the scientific training received by local personnel who collaborated in the observatories. In some countries those trained by the Jesuits were the first to receive any scientific formation at all. Thus Jesuits contributed in an important way to the scientific development of these countries. Among the observatories established in such countries the four great mission observatories, namely, Manila, Zikawei, Tananarive, and Lebanon excelled by their importance.


Solar Eclipse Meteorological Observation Astronomical Observation Magnetic Section International Geophysical Year 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Augustín Udías
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geophysics and MeteorologyUniversidad ComplutenseMadridSpain

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