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Thread: An Observatory visit, and Vacheron Constantin Chronometer

  1. #1

    An Observatory visit, and Vacheron Constantin Chronometer

    I visited the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Mitaka campus, today. It's now mainly a research institute, the main telescopes are in the mountains and in Hawaii, but they have some of the old telescopes, still working. Originally, the NAOJ was located in Azabu, central Tokyo, where it was founded in 1888. After the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the worst in Japanese history*, the Observatory was persuaded to move further out, to Mitaka in the west of Tokyo.

    Here is the original Mitaka Observatory Dome:


    How it looked today:


    The telescope was installed in 1927. A 20cm Achromat, of 359cm focal length, it was built by Carl Zeiss of Germany. The mount is driven by a clock mechanism, with governor and weight, allowing tracking without electrical power for about one and half hours.

    It's a lovely thing.


    One of the staff demonstrated moving the dome, and tracking the sun.

    The scope was mainly used for solar observation from 1931. Between 1939 and 1999, astronomers noted the sunspot activity and reported it to other institutes all over the world.

    Moving on, down a tree-lined path with appropriate ornaments:



    We come to this much bigger, and quite promising, dome:



    Built in 1929, it houses a 65cm refractor of 10m focal length, also of Carl Zeiss manufacturer. Entering via the newer square building at ground level, through to the original structure, witness the huge flared support going through the suspended floor and into the ground. This has to carry a very large scope...



    Like it's smaller neighbour, the mount is mechanically controlled with gears, weights and pulleys :





    When you walk upstairs to the observatory floor, you can see what all the engineering is there for ...



    (more...)


    *For fatalities. On 1 September 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake measured magnitude 7.9. The collapse of buildings and subsequent fires killed over 100,000 people. On 11 March 2011, the Great East Japan earthquake measured magnitude 9.0. Recording ground acceleration of 2.7g, it moved NE Japan almost 3m closer to America. The tsunami that followed reached over 40m in height and up to 10Km inland. Confirmed deaths were close to 16,000. An additional 1/3 million people lost their homes.
    Last edited by Tokyo Tokei; 25th November 2012 at 06:03.

  2. #2

    An Observatory visit, and Vacheron Constantin Chronometer

    The roof and sliding cover, internally constructed from wood. The scope is enormous.


    the equatorial mount isn't too flimsy either:


    Again, mainly used for solar observation. Enormous photographic plates were used to record the images:


    Plates too supplied by Carl Zeiss:


    Though I did see that a more local manufacturer got a look in too:



    That would have gone on the 38cm guide scope, attached on top of the main beast. Heavy tomes of astronomical tables were used, with calculations made possible by the latest gadgetry :



    All of which would be pointless without knowing the time, to the best precision possible. Enter the observatory chronometer :




    It is the original one used at this observatory. Manufactured by Vacheron Constantin, whose record in observatory time trials was second to none. In the Geneva Observatory Trial of 1917, for example, ninety pieces were submitted by seven manufacturers. The results were:

    First class ( diameter less than 43mm ) :

    Pts Manufacturers
    842 Vacheron and Constantin
    831 Patek Philippe & Co.
    809 Vacheron and Constantin
    808 Vacheron and Constantin
    807 Patek Philippe & Co.
    805 Vacheron and Constantin
    801 Patek Philippe & Co.

    Second class ( diameter 43mm or more ) :

    799 Vacheron and Constantin
    795 Vacheron and Constantin
    785 Patek Philippe & Co.
    777 Patek Philippe & Co.

    Special Awards

    Prize, average difference daily : Vacheron & Constantin

    Beginning in 1766 ( at Greenwich Royal Observatory ), time trials continued until 1974 when quartz made mechanical observatory clocks obsolete. In the late 18th Century, timekeeping to within one or two minutes a day would be sufficient for success in a trial. In fact, for the first Geneva Observatory trial in 1772, not a single entered piece managed to better 1 minute per day.

    By the time of the 1917 trial above, the daily variation for an observatory chronometer would be measured in fractions of a second to two decimal places. Although testing wasn't standardised across observatories, measurements would generally be taken for 45 days continuously, in 5 positions and 3 temperatures.

    Current COSC chronometers must be within -4/+6s per day, in 5 positions, tested for 16 days.

    95% of submitted movements pass.

    I left for home and felt a better appreciation for mechanical engineering and scientific endeavour.

    The solar activity reports continue. Since 1999 they have been made with a 10cm refractor, CCD imager and computer on site at the same campus. The chronometer wasn't ticking.

    Paul
    Last edited by Tokyo Tokei; 25th November 2012 at 12:16.

  3. #3
    Grand Master SimonK's Avatar
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    Very interesting, many thanks for the post.

  4. #4
    Grand Master Dave+63's Avatar
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    An Observatory visit, and Vacheron Constantin Chronometer

    I just happened to be reading this whilst walking the dog past the old Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux Castle.

    ImageUploadedByTapatalk1353837506.483021.jpg

  5. #5
    Interesting post there. Thanks for taking the time.

  6. #6
    Craftsman
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    Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

  7. #7
    Master
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    Great thread, thanks :-)

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    Master Thewatchbloke's Avatar
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    Very interesting, thanks for posting

  9. #9
    Master
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    Thanks for interesting and informative post.

  10. #10
    Master
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    Thanks for that - very intersting. I didn't realise how accurate those chronometers were.

    It looks like you're enjoying lovely clear weather - hope that keeps up for you.

    ATB

    Jon

  11. #11
    Master Geronimo's Avatar
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    Excellent indeed, an enjoyable virtual journey, thanks for it.

    Regards

    Jimmy

  12. #12
    Master
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    It's great reading stuff like this, so very interesting & so good that members take the time to post, especially with pictures. Thanks.
    Oh, & insn't it a shame that the Chronometer no longer ticks. Is it in need of repair, or just never wound.

  13. #13
    It's just on display only now, in the dome housing the big 10m scope. I suspect it was put out to grass in the 70s. It was nice to see one in it's original habitat though. Next to the big book of tables and the mechanical calculator, it all made sense.

    A photo from the observatory's heyday:



    Paul

  14. #14
    Craftsman Barry's Avatar
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    Excellent

    Looks like a great day out, good to see those pieces of history, they are huge.
    Puts mine to shame!


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    Craftsman
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    Wow, very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

    Regards,
    Alex

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    Grand Master MartynJC (UK)'s Avatar
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    Thank you for taking the texans effort to post! Most imteresting.

    "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so”. HHGTTG


  17. #17
    Grand Master
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    Very interesting indeed, thanks for posting,

    Cheers mike

  18. #18
    Master Omegary's Avatar
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    Fascinating thread Paul, many thanks for posting. I genuinely had no idea that Vacheron and Constantin had such a distinguished record in observatory trials.

    Cheers,
    Gary

  19. #19
    Thanks for the very interesting post. I would love to have a chronometer like that.

    Best wishes,
    Bob

  20. #20
    Master S.L's Avatar
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    Enjoyable reading and viewing, cheers for that!

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    Grand Master GraniteQuarry's Avatar
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    Terrific post Paul, many thanks for taking the time to share

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    Quote Originally Posted by Barry View Post
    Looks like a great day out, good to see those pieces of history, they are huge.
    Puts mine to shame!

    a 4520-8000 ??

  23. #23

    wow

    that 10M scope is amazing







    Many thanks for posting
    Tim

  24. #24
    Very interesting. Many thanks.

  25. #25
    Master hellominky's Avatar
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    Thanks for a genuinely enjoyable thread that evidences the diverse nature of watch and clock history. To see living history on a mammoth scale must have been quite aweinspiring.

  26. #26
    Thanks for the kind comments. Both the observatories ( and contents ) shown are listed as Japan National Treasures. It's good to be able to go and visit. The use of a clock mechanism to move the scope for tracking was new to me, I'd never thought about it before. As for the observatory chronometer, I was pleased to see it in context. It has started me wondering about the original observatory trials and how the accuracy could be measured to within hundredths of a second. What reference was used ? I need to do some research.

    I'm going back next month, time permitting. There is an open day for viewing Jupiter and the Orion Nebula at the same campus, using their modern 50cm SC scope, pictured here :



    Quote Originally Posted by rfrazier View Post
    [ ... ] I would love to have a chronometer like that.
    I may make some enquiries about the chronometer, just in case they were thinking it needs a new home

    For those interested, one of the NAOJ researchers ( Tsunehiko Kato ) wrote the visualisation software called, appropriately, Mitaka. It needs DirectX, so Windows only. It is described as "navigating across the universe seamlessly from the Earth to the edges of the known universe". I saw it in action at the NAOJ "4D" cinema, a 3D screen wrapped into a hemisphere. It was very impressive.

    Paul

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tokyo Tokei View Post
    It has started me wondering about the original observatory trials and how the accuracy could be measured to within hundredths of a second. What reference was used ?
    Simply put; the movement of the earth itself was the reference.
    The checking points where the positions of the starts and a véry accurate standing regulator clock; the observatory regulator clock.
    The clock on the scope was daily set to the incredibly accurate pendulum floor clock which in its turn was kept in sync with the stars = earth. The earth´s rotation and other movements was the standard of time as man knew it.

    It was quartz that moved it up to the next level; changed the norms. When quartz evolved it was literally instrumental in measuring the movements of the earth, its irregularities, which up to then was the measure of things.

    This is why I like the Seiko ´Think the Earth´ so much. It symbolises the earth as the reference; the measure of things.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huertecilla View Post
    Simply put; the movement of the earth itself was the reference.
    The checking points where the positions of the starts and a véry accurate standing regulator clock; the observatory regulator clock.
    The clock on the scope was daily set to the incredibly accurate pendulum floor clock which in its turn was kept in sync with the stars = earth. The earth´s rotation and other movements was the standard of time as man knew it.

    It was quartz that moved it up to the next level; changed the norms. When quartz evolved it was literally instrumental in measuring the movements of the earth, its irregularities, which up to then was the measure of things.

    This is why I like the Seiko ´Think the Earth´ so much. It symbolises the earth as the reference; the measure of things.
    The earth was an excellent reference when the chronometers could only do minute/day accuracy.

    It's much to floppy and wobbly an object to be a good reference in a world of rubidium clocks. The solar year can vary by whole seconds.

    This is why GPS time and UTC time are so far out from each other, for example.

  29. #29
    Grand Master Neil.C's Avatar
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    Great post, so interesting.

    That old VC chronometer and Zeiss scope I guess shows the state of the art at the time.
    Cheers,
    Neil.

    My Speedmaster website:

    http://www.freewebs.com/neil271052

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Huertecilla View Post
    Simply put; the movement of the earth itself was the reference.
    The checking points where the positions of the starts and a véry accurate standing regulator clock; the observatory regulator clock. The clock on the scope was daily set to the incredibly accurate pendulum floor clock which in its turn was kept in sync with the stars = earth. The earth´s rotation and other movements was the standard of time as man knew it.
    Thanks, that makes sense. I had thought a pendulum would be involved somewhere, and an observatory would be the one place where such a timekeeper could be referenced. So the trials were held at observatories because that was the only place on earth where timekeeping devices could be adequately tested to such accuracy, as much as because an observatory needs an accurate clock.

    It is amazing how far we have come.

    Without taking anything away from progress, I am at least equally amazed with what was possible then.

    Paul

  31. #31
    Grand Master Daddelvirks's Avatar
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    Cheers!

    That made for some very nice reading in my coffee break!

    Daddel.
    Got a new watch, divers watch it is, had to drown the bastard to get it!

  32. #32
    Grand Master Carlton-Browne's Avatar
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    Many thanks for the time and effort you've taken to post this. Vacheron & Constantin have just gone up yet another step in my estimation.
    Die Zeit verwandelt uns nicht, sie entfaltet uns nur.

  33. #33
    Master
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    Great post and very interesting information. Thanks for taking the time to put all this together !

    All the best, Gerry

  34. #34

    Smile

    Bloody brilliant post!! Thanks.

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tokyo Tokei View Post
    Thanks, that makes sense. I had thought a pendulum would be involved somewhere, and an observatory would be the one place where such a timekeeper could be referenced. So the trials were held at observatories because that was the only place on earth where timekeeping devices could be adequately tested to such accuracy, as much as because an observatory needs an accurate clock.

    It is amazing how far we have come.

    Without taking anything away from progress, I am at least equally amazed with what was possible then.

    Paul

    Astronomers already kept track of time using tools like megalithic monuments and even a portable disc millennia ago.
    The pendulum clock was refined over centuries and it is mind boggling to realise what accuracy was achieved by interactive use of the earths movement by looking at the sky and the pendulum clock.
    The 20th C. traditional observatory was achieving a level of accuracy totally out of context of the rather basic nature of looking at the sky and the swing of a pendulum; the rotation of the earth and its gravity moving the pendulum.
    The earth was entirely governing our time.

    Untill the qco was invented by us.

    It was a monumental, fundamental leap for mankind to let go of s system that had been a guide for civilisations for millennia and switch to a manmade system for time keeping.
    Although the gco reigned for only a few decades before cesium took over as the standard for science, is was a milestone compairable to the use of fire, the invention of flint tools and the wheel.

  36. #36
    Well the first atomic clock was operational in 1949* and cesium clocks were commercially available in 1958... the qco was not as accurate but made everything rather smaller and ( eventually ) cheaper. Both important for wristwatches but less so for absolute time measurement. The oscillation frequency of a quartz crystal is as much "nature" as the period of orbit of the earth, to me.

    Paul

    *The Nobel Prize in Physics for 1989 was awarded to three researchers for their work in developing atomic clocks. I remember this because I was at university studying physics at the time.

  37. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tokyo Tokei View Post
    Well the first atomic clock was operational in 1949* and cesium clocks were commercially available in 1958... the qco was not as accurate but made everything rather smaller and ( eventually ) cheaper. Both important for wristwatches but less so for absolute time measurement. The oscillation frequency of a quartz crystal is as much "nature" as the period of orbit of the earth, to me.

    Paul

    *The Nobel Prize in Physics for 1989 was awarded to three researchers for their work in developing atomic clocks. I remember this because I was at university studying physics at the time.
    The first quartz clock was 1927 and it became a practical thing rather fast.
    It was the first clock that was beyond observing the earth.
    Patek made a family of quartz marine chronometers and also master clocks.
    As I wrote the quartz clock was the standard of time measuring for about 30 years.
    It was thé milestone of abandoning the earth as the measure of time.

    Quartz does not have ´a frequency´ but a high frequency whithin a very narrow band; is very precise. The latter is níce but the goody is that quartz also has piëzo-electric properties. Now man can cut is to a precise frequency and add a manmade electric oscilator to make/keep it at vibrating at that frequency.

    As to miniaturising it is a dífferent story.
    As to autonomous measuring of time on the wrist, the tc quartz is still the ultimate and it will probably remain so because the way we have access to time has changed so to have access to atomic time we do not have to wear it autonomous on our wrist.

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