History




Nikula at one of the AUB observatory 
open nights.
The observatory

The AUB Lee Observatory was the first and 
oldest in the Middle East.
 After it was closed down by AUB in 1980,
Nikula set up a system at home linked to
 equipment on the roof  to measure the rainfall,
 the winds and the humidity 
so that his records, which were started
 by the AUB Observatory in the late
 1800s, would be up to date.
Joseph Nasr of the daily an-Nahar newspaper
 always contacted him for the paper’s weather column.  
In the early Seventies, his daughter Leila's
 husband Dan da Cruz and their son Danny brought him
more sophisticated equipment from the States
 which, after his death, was transported to 
his daughter's house, Mona Khauli, who continues 
with her husband Fadlo and son Munir 
to record nature’s vicissitudes
 to this day and still supplies An-Nahar with their findings 
        from Marsad Nikula Shahin (Nikula Shahin’s Observatory).


His work at the AUB observatory 

It is a remarkable thing that the study of the celestial bodies started

at the Syrian Protestant College since its inception in 1866  and that

by 1874 an observatory had been built. Astronomy was first taught by

Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck, a physician whose passion was the stars.

He used his income from the practice of medicine to purchase instruments.

Through his initiative a sum of 150 English pounds was donated by

Henry Lee, a British merchant from Manchester, to build the observatory

which was completed in 1874 and named Lee Astro-Physical Observatory.

In 1874 Van Dyck started to record systematic meteorological observations

three times a day.  Van Dyck had an agreement with the Ottoman authorities

to send the records daily by wire to the Imperial observatory in Constantinople

and thence to the Imperial Meteorological Bureau in Vienna. Time measurements

with reference to the stars were carried out once a week and captains of ships putting

into Beirut harbour would bring their chronometers to the observatory for adjustment.

In 1883 Haldane West was appointed Instructor in Mathematics and

Astronomy and Director of the observatory. Around 1900 West set up a Milne

seismograph for recording earthquakes. In 1906, Jurdak became Adjunct Professor of

Mathematics and Acting Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.  During those years

Jurdak lived one whole year in the south-east room of the observatory which was to serve

as his office for research and writing for over sixty years. During those years

Jurdak used to select undergraduates and graduate students, to live in the Observatory

and help check the instruments and record important observations and meteorological manifestations.

One of these students, Nikula J. Shahin continued his work with Jurdak until he

left Beirut in 1921 and then resumed it on his return to the Physics department at AUB in 1939.

The two had a long association during the life of Professor Jurdak, and Shahin continued

his activities at the Observatory until it's closure. Owen Gingerich resumed the courses

in Astronomy which had been discontinued since 1947 after Mansour Jurdak's retirement.

In 1958 Dr. Hans Bruin of Amsterdam University succeeded Gingerich and divided

his time between post of Director of the observatory and teaching astronomy and physics.

During all those years after 1939, Nikula Shahin was on and off in charge of the Observatory

observations operations and after his retirement from the Department of Physics in 1962 he gave it all his time.

When it closed down at the end of 1978, he set up instruments on the roof of his house so that the meteorological

observations started in 1875 would not be interrupted.  By that time the Ksara Observatory had closed down,

and the only other source of meteorological information was the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

In 1980 Shahin was given by Daniel da Cruz, his son-in-law, and Daniel Nicholas da Cruz, his grandson,

a high precision set of instruments for the measurement of rainfall, speed of wind, atmospheric pressure,

humidity and temperatures, Thus he kept the media provided with information about meteorological conditions.

When he died in 1984, As- Safir daily wrote- "The Observatory is Dead."

The equipment was then moved to the residence of Mona and Fadlo Boulos Khauli, his daughter and son in law,

who have assumed the responsibility of keeping up the work, and if you read An-Nahar daily,

you will find the readings from the "Nikula Shahin Observatory" in every weather report.


       Information from "The Observatory of the Stars" by Najwa Shahin Haffar (for Al-Kulliyah 1988)