A window to the stars

  • 2006-10-25
  • By June Risum Scheibel
RIGA - Riga's Skyline Bar has a dazzling rival. As of this month, the University of Latvia observatory is once again open to the public, and welcoming students, adults and pensioners to come celebrate 20 years among the stars. "The main thing is what we show, not what we tell," observatory guide Kristine Adgere says. "Today we can see the moon and the Andromeda Galaxy. Every evening the sky is different."

In addition to her studies in the University of Latvia's physics and astronomy faculties, Adgere has worked as an observatory guide for about two years.

This year, the observatory is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Few, however, may notice the miniature dome that caps the university's Raina Boulevard building. A narrow staircase, tucked away in a quiet hallway, leads to the small tower. Once you ascend the winding staircase, you find a cramped room with an 11-year-old telescope, its lens reaching toward the skies. But on Wednesday evenings - when the observatory is open to the public - visitors line the hallway, waiting to get a peek at the wonders of the universe.

The night I attended, the majority of guests were young students and amorous couples, save a few impatient children visiting with their families.

"We came to see the stars, because they are romantic," says Dmitry Viharev, who brought his girlfriend.
Arita Udre, a 21-year-old law student, says she had kept her fingers crossed all week that there would be clear skies tonight. Besides the unavoidable layer of Riga pollution, there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

Maris Krastins has a master's degree in physics and usually assists at the tower. The academic says he's not surprised to see so many visitors, considering the observatory's long history. "The observatory was originally built for scientific purposes, when the university building was finished in the 1880s," Krastins explains.

The telescope used today was handmade by amateur Latvian astronomer Juris Karklins. To see through the instrument's eyepiece, one must balance on a short step ladder. With a diameter of 22 centimetres, the amateur telescope is the second largest in the country. Looking through the lens you hardly notice that everything is upside down.
The best time to view the various constellations 's if there are no clouds, of course 's is from December to February. However, people still visit the observatory on dim nights, using the telescope not for the stars, but to watch the city of Riga up close.
Although the observatory does not offer drinks or music, Adgere admits that the romantic university roof could become a competitor with Skyline Bar, reputed for its stunning view from the top of Hotel Latvia. "I would like for people to learn about the stars and which objects they can see in the sky," she says.

The mysteries of the universe are not meant for dedicated astronomers, but everyone on this planet.
"It was so beautiful," Viharev's girlfriend says with a smile, as the young couple descend the observatory stairs.

University of Latvia observatory, Open every Wednesday
at 20:00 October - March