Monday, September 2, 2013
I am still not convinced that the dome in the picture is really a part of the main business of the Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) in Nungambakkam. It looks a bit like an oddly-shaped water-tank, but being where it is, I must accept that it is very likely to have a scientific purpose. The RMC is, of course, one of the six such across the country; this one covers the four southern states, Pondicherry and Lakshadweep.
Although the RMC was formally set up only on April 1, 1945, its beginnings go back to 1769. The transit of Venus that year saw a lot of activity, which ultimately ended up, unfortunately, with little to show for it. One of those who must have been deeply affected by this was William Petrie, who was at that time a junior civil servant in Fort St George. By 1786, Petrie was a big shot and had enough money to spare for an iron-and-timber observatory, its instruments and to employ an assistant named John Goldingham. By 1792, when Sir Charles Oakeley was the Governor of Madras, the proposal for an observatory was backed by Micheal Topping, who had made a name himself as the 'most talented and highly qualified all-round surveyor of the East India Company'. Petrie's instruments, and the observatory itself, were moved to a garden house on the banks of the Cooum, with John Goldingham taking charge as the first Astronomer.
That, of course, was the first Observatory in the country. Having been reduced to a mere RMC now cannot take that credit away from it, no matter how the wind blows!