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The night sky over Zimmerwald

On a hill near Bern lies the Zimmerwald geostation. It is the fundamental point for the Swiss geographical survey. Here, specialists carry out research into the cosmos – and receive the occasional night-time visitor. It truly is an office with extraordinary views.

10.11.2022 | DKW

Zimmerwald geostation

Zimmerwald is situated on the Längenberg, a chain of hills just south of Bern. It offers a view of the Bernese Alps from 900 metres high. Up there, it seems that the sky is within touching distance; a quality that the scientific community makes the most of. At Zimmerwald, swisstopo operates a geostation in collaboration with the Astronomical Institute of the University of Bern.
Surrounded by woodland and meadows stands a building topped with an impressive dome. “Hidden under its arch, you’ll find state-of-the-art telescopes that capture photos of the universe every second”, explains Elmar Brockmann. The astronomy PhD graduate and land surveyor works for swisstopo overseeing the Swiss geographical survey, the most important reference point for which is located at Zimmerwald.

Night-time illuminations

Twice a month, Elmar Brockmann spends the night on the Längenberg. He keeps the telescopes running and monitors the technical measuring devices which transmit data on an ongoing basis. “It is a demanding task in a unique working environment”, he says. Each time he leaves to do a night shift, he meticulously observes the weather conditions beforehand as the telescopes can only capture images if the sky is clear. These pictures provide information about so-called “space junk” that remains in space when satellites reach the end of their lifespan.
There is also a laser on-site that is directed at a satellite through a telescope. The green light of the laser precisely measures the distance between telescope and satellite. The results are continually sent on to international data centres where they are analysed. “Our work contributes to global surveying”, explains the expert, Brockmann.
When he is out in the open at night, a dog from the nearby farm sometimes pays him a visit. Occasionally he will see two eyes glaring back amidst the darkness. “Now and again we see foxes sneaking by as well”, he says.

A global network

The geostation allows swisstopo to participate in global scientific research. All of the data that is generated at Zimmerwald finds its way into international research projects. “We operate within a global network”, Elmar Brockmann explains. Occasionally the Federal Office of Topography receives guests on the Längenberg. People from all corners of the world have visited Zimmerwald and taken a look around the observatory. The technical equipment is not the only sight to behold; cows can often be seen enjoying a run-out not far from the building complex. This is a place where state-of-the-art technology meets time-honoured tradition.

Zimmerwald geostation

Un’alba accogliente

I dati raccolti dalla stazione di osservazione non sono utilizzati solo per la misurazione globale, ma anche da organizzazioni spaziali e aeronautiche internazionali e da istituti meteorologici nazionali ed europei. Al momento, due collaboratori di swisstopo svolgono regolarmente incarichi di lavoro nell’osservatorio. «Con la nostra presenza possiamo rafforzare la cooperazione tra tutte le istituzioni», afferma Elmar Brockmann. La geostazione è molto simile a una fortezza tecnologica. Eppure, tra i vari cavi, strumenti di misura, attrezzi e schermi, c’è anche un letto dove la guardia notturna può riposare due o tre ore, se la situazione lo consente. Anche se può rilassarsi davvero solo la mattina presto, quando tutti i telescopi sono spenti e il turno è terminato. Quando può ammirare l’alba e godere della vista dell’Eiger, del Mönch e della Jungfrau.


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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
Tel.
+41 58 469 01 11

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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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