Konkoly Thege Miklós (1842-1916)

Miklós Konkoly Thege was a wealthy Hungarian nobleman who established a private observatory at Ógyalla. He was not simply a rich landowner but an educated scientist as well.

The Konkoly Thege family was Hungarian nobility with a considerable landed estate. His parents were Elek and Klára (née Földvári) Konkoly Thege. Miklós studied at the universities of Pest (1857–1860) and Berlin (1860–1862), earning a doctor of law degree. While in Berlin, he studied astronomy with Johann Encke, J. H. Dove, and H. G. Magnus. Encke was the intellectual leader of a whole generation of astronomers, for example J. H. Mädler, J. G. Galle, G. Spörer, B. Gould. Konkoly’s contemporaries who studied under Encke were C. Rümker, A. Krüger, W. Förster, B. Hoffman and F. Tietjen. Well respected as an early participant in the evolution of astrophysics, Miklós Konkoly Thege founded an institute for the study of astronomy and astrophysics in Hungary using his own resources. He is rightly thought of as the founder of astronomy in Hungary, although such noteworthy astronomers as Franz Xaver von Zach and Maximilian Hell were Hungarian natives practicing astronomy abroad.

In Slovakia an astronomical award medal was established bearing the name of Konkoly. On the obverse of the bronze medal the left facing portrait of Konkoly is visible. Legend around is: "CENA Dr MIKULÁSA KONKOLY-THEGE · SÚH · ", i. e. Dr. Miklós Konkoly Thege award. SÚH is for Slovenská Ústredná Hvezdáreň v Hurbanove, that is Slovak Central Observatory Hurbanovo.

Konkoly 1  reverseKonkoly 1 obverse

On the reverse legend in four line is placed: "ZA ZÁSLUHY O ROZVOJ ASTRONÓMIE NA SLOVENSKU", i. e. for contributions to the development of astronomy in Slovakia.

In 1871 Konkoly erected a small 3 inch telescope, of the Bardou type, on the balcony of his castle, so that he could observe celestial events for his own amusement. Soon his ambitious nature moved him to undertake more difficult projects. He was determined to establish a school of Astronomy in a country, where not a single observatory was in existence; the last one was blown to bits 22 years earlier, on the order of the Austrian military authorities.

In 1874 he built an observatory of two domes in the park of his palace at Ógyalla. In one of the domes he erected a 10.5 inch Browning reflector, in the other a 6 inch Merz refractor which was augmented with a Zöllner type spectroscope. The photographs, compiled in the Ógyallan Catalogue of Spectra by Radó Kövesligethy, were produced using this instrument. A Rheinfelder heliograph was used for the observation of the sun. The observatory housed an extensive collection of spectrometers.

The first 50 years of history of Ógyalla Observatory, from its establishment to it's transfer to Budapest is described in details by Lajos G. Balázs, Magda Vargha and Endre Zsoldos in their work from which two chapters are cited here, see the side box.

Abstract

The second half of the 19th century experienced a revolution in astronomy. It coincided with a new start of professional astronomy in Hungary through the work of Miklós Konkoly Thege (1842–1916) who is considered as a pioneer of current astrophysical activity in our country (Hungary). He played an outstanding role in organizing scientific life and institutions, too. He started observations in his newly founded Observatory at Ógyalla in 1871. Sunspots were regularly observed in the observatory from 1872. In 1874 Konkoly began regular spectroscopic observations of comets and emphasized the importance of parallel laboratory works. An important field of Konkoly’s astronomical activity was the observation of surface patterns of planets, particularly that of Jupiter and Mars. Spectroscopic observations of stars were also a significant part of the activity of Ógyalla Observatory. In the last period of the Konkoly era (starting in 1899) stellar photometry became the main field of research. At the end of WWI the institute was moved to Budapest from Ógyalla and started a new life based on a completely new infrastructure...

Royal Hungarian Astrophysical Observatory

In the eighties Konkoly realized that his richness was not enough to keep his institute competitive on an international level and recognized that its operation by the state was the only way to survive:
"As I am childless, constant fear is that my observatory built at great cost in time and effort, share the lamentable fate of other privately owned observatories. . . . Such was the fate of the observatory of the Baron Comphausen in Rüngsdorf, near Bonn; also of that Fr. Brödel, Saxony, the Umkrechtsberg in Olmütz and many others. Under the influence of these sad cases I have decided to donate my observatory to the state, as it stands, lock, stock, and barrel with three stipulations.
1. The state will take responsibility for the operation of the observatory and employ three officials to do this.
2. The observatory will not be moved from Ógyalla during my life (it is hoped that, even after my demise, no minister will contemplate such as idiocy, considering the investments which will have been made since nationalization).
3. As long as live and am capable, I shall remain the director of the Observatory, but without ever receiving any remuneration for my services."
He was a member of the Astronomische Gesellschaft (AG) from 1873. Thanks to his personal contacts the AG meeting was held in Budapest in 1898. An important motivation for organizing this meeting in Budapest was to have some international support for donating his institute to the Hungarian state. The donation took place on May 16, 1899 and with the inauguration the Royal Hungarian Astrophysical Observatory began its activity... The donated institute was accepted by Baron Gyula Wlassics, minister of cultural affairs, who promised in the name of the state a new building and instruments.


Lajos G. Balázs, Magda Vargha and Endre Zsoldos : The First 50 Years of Konkoly Observatory, ICOMOS

After the WWI the village Ógyalla belonged to Czechoslovakia, its name changed to Hurbanovo but the buildings were used as they were originally built, as an observatory. The nationality later has changed again, but the Ógyalla observatory, now in Slovakia and named as Hurbanovo is still operating.

For the first centenary of its institution a bronze medal was issued in 1971. On its obverse the stylized view of the observatory was placed. Above it the crescent Moon, below it dates 1871-1971 are visible. Legend around is: "100 ROKOV OBSERVATÓRIÍ V HURBANOVE", i. e. 100 years observatory at Hurbanovo.

ogyalla 1  reverseogyalla 1 obverse

On the reverse the left facing portrait of its founder, the rich Hungarian landowner Miklós Konkoly Thege is visible. Legend around is his name in Slovakian form, below his birth and death years.

The autograph of Miklós Konkoly Thege on the gift deed.