largo Enrico Fermi 5, 50125 Firenze

The origins of astrophysics in Florence

Florence, Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory

"… it seems that the striae in stellar spectra are in a certain relationship with the colours corresponding to the various stars. The white stars have lines that resemble each other, and the same is true for the yellow stars, the orange, and the red ones."
(G. B. Donati, 1862)


Simone Bianchi, Daniele Galli & Antonella Gasperini

Florence, February 1859. From the Observatory (Specola) of the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History, the astronomer Giovan Battista Donati begins to observe the spectra of the brightest stars in the sky, revealing a substantial similarity but subtle differences between the mysterious dark striæ in the spectrum of stars and of the Sun.
In the same years, the German physicist Kirchhoff and chemist Bunsen show that the striæ (now known as absorption lines) are due to the presence in the stars of the same chemical elements known on Earth.
These are the beginnings of spectroscopy and astrophysics, which will revolutionize our scientific knowledge of the Universe by allowing to study the physical characteristics of the stars (chemical composition, temperature, density, velocity), a possibility hitherto considered unthinkable.
This section of the Starlight exhibition describes the first steps taken by Donati in the field of this new science, from the pioneering observations of the spectra of stars and comets to the building of powerful spectroscopes for the study of the Sun.
One of these instruments will be used in the new Arcetri Astronomical Observatory, built by Donati and inaugurated in 1872. The road opened by Donati will find extensive development in the new observatory, which in 1921 will become Astrophysical. Modern spectroscopes designed and built in Arcetri allow today to conduct forefront astrophysical research with the most powerful telescopes in the World.


In exhibition