Solar prominences observed in Palermo, Rome and Padua

Memorie della Società degli Spettroscopisti Italiani raccolte e pubblicate per cura del prof. P. Tacchini
volume I, Palermo, Stabilimento tipografico Lao, 1872
520 x 360 mm, detail
Library of INAF-Palermo Astronomical Observatory

In the spring of 1871 Angelo Secchi joined an observations program proposed by Pietro Tacchini, adjunct astronomer at the Palermo Observatory, which included an studies on the shape of the solar prominance: to draw sketches of the whole solar contour for three or 4 days, as it was observed – at the same time – in the three observatories of Palermo, Rome and Padua, where their colleague Giuseppe Lorenzoni was operating.
The observations, carried out spectroscopically, lasted well more than the few days initially planned and indeed, after several months of intense collaboration carried out remotely, Secchi conceived the idea of establishing a small society dealing with sketching the prominences and imagining scholars from all over Italy who undertook the work two at a time, one month for each pair, to avoid gaps caused by bad weather. Tacchini and Lorenzoni enthusiastically welcomed the proposal and the ‘ Society of the Italian Spectroscopists ‘ saw the light in October of 1871, despite some criticisms by an academic world pervaded with personalisms and still tightly clinging to old vision of astronomy, understood as the ultimate expression of pure mathematics.
The purpose of the society was to monitor the activity of sunspots, facolae and protuberances, through the simultaneous observation carried out in the various participating locations. Founder members were Pietro Tacchini, who was also the president, Angelo Secchi, Giuseppe Lorenzoni, Lorenzo Respighi in Rome and Arminio Nobile in Naples. For an effective and up-to-date exchange on studies and spectroscopic observations that took place in Italy, they also gave life to the memories of the Italian Spectroscopist Society, the official press service of the company. The first volume was published in 1872 in Palermo and soon, just for its novelty, the magazine catalyzed the international interest: the Society began to aggregate also foreign partners and to publish articles in other languages; among the members of the society were the most important astrophysicists of the time, such as Jules C. Janssen, Georges Rayet, Norman Lockyer and, later, George Ellery Hale. The memoirs were, the first newspaper overall in the world dedicated to astrophysical research, predating also the renowed The Astrophysical Journal, the most prestigious magazine of the sector until nowadays, whose birth, however, is due to the great consideration that its founder, Hale, had of the Italian memories . Also in this context Secchi’s contribution was instrumental in establishing a network of scientific community of astrophysicists and for the development of astrophysics as an autonomous scientific discipline with respect to astronomy.

Valeria Zanini, INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova

Starlight: la nascita dell'astrofisica in Italia/the origins of astrophysics in Italy, a cura di I. Chinnici, Napoli, Arte'm, 2016
P. Tacchini, Nuova società di spettroscopisti italiani, in «Memorie della Società degli Spettroscopisti Italiani», I (1872), pp. 3-6.
I. Chinnici, La Società degli spettroscopisti italiani e la fondazione dell’«Astrophysical Journal» nelle lettere di G. E. Hale a P. Tacchini, in «Atti del XVI Congresso di Storia della Fisica e dell‘Astronomia. Como 24 - 25 maggio 1996» (ed. P. Tucci), Como, 1997, pp. 299-321.
I. Chinnici, A. Gasperini, Alle origini dell’astrofisica italiana: il carteggio Secchi-Tacchini 1861-1877, Firenze, Fondazione Ronchi, 2013