Back at the Molesworth Telescope

Recently I was back in Sri Lanka for a short stay of about a fortnight and was able to visit the historic Molesworth Telescope. As usual the telescope was found installed with its dome in the grounds of the University of Colombo and was under the custody of Mathematical & Astronomical Society (MAS) of University of Colombo (UoC). This telescope is named after major Percy Braybrooke Molesworth (1867 – 1908) who owned it in the first place. He had settled in Trincomalee as a major during British colonial times in Sri Lanka and he was carrying out astronomical observations. In present, Molesworth telescope remains an astronomical museum-piece as is no longer functional. It is not difficult to spot the dome if you’re heading towards Thummulla junction, passing the Royal College swimming pool in the one-way road named Philip Gunewardena Mawatha. As soon as you pass the color lights at the crossing between faculties of science and art, you can see the university grounds to your right and the dome is seen very close to the road.

Me at the Molesworth Telescope

Me at the Molesworth Telescope, September 2014

Having been back in UoC premises after a long time, I was wandering around with few old friends and soon we found ourselves by the Molesworth telescope. This recent visit to the telescope made me retrospect how we introduced and showcased it to numerous visitors to the university, including many school children from around Sri Lanka, during my days at UoC, when I was the president of the MAS. We even held a campaign to clean and white-wash the dome, housing the telescope and installed a plaque beside the entrance to the dome in order to give out basic information about this Molesworth’s legacy.  As we were engaged in this campaign, it was in fact interesting to see many passers-by stopping by and inquiring us what the ‘big deal’ at the dome was about. The objective of all these efforts was to highlight the name of Major Molesworth and make him known among many.

before, after, color-wash

Before and after the color-wash of the telescope. Pictured also is my colleague Poorna Abeywardana, back in December 2012

Busy at work

Busy at work

However it is noteworthy that during the days of Major Molesworth, he made a good use of this telescope from his personal observatory in Trincomalee. He had created detailed drawings of Mars and Jupiter with the very telescope and his sharp eye-sight. Further he is also credited with the discovery of the phenomenon known as ‘South Tropical Disturbance’ in the planet Jupiter in 1901 with his keen observations accompanied with scrutiny. In recognition of his work a crater on Mars has been named after him by IAU.

Major Percy B Molesworth

Major Percy B Molesworth,  Credit:

I’d recommend you to read this comprehensive article written by Nalaka Gunawadene on Percy B Molesworth and his legacy, the Molesworth telescope.

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