OMP > Research > Platforms > Pic du Midi

Pic du Midi


The technical platform of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre observatory provides the OMP research teams with technical and logistics support. It overviews the observations and practical work sessions for higher education carried out on the site. Current experiments span the whole field of the sciences of the Universe with 6 telescope domes operating for 2 observation services (TBL, T1m, T60, LJR, Solar corona, space meteorology) and twelve laboratory experiments for OMP and other French and international labs. The Pic is one of the two homesites of the P2OA (Plateforme pyrénéenne d’Observation atmosphérique). The staff comprises 20 experts in electronics, electrotechnics and mechanics.

Since 1873, the Pic du Midi observatory has been a major site for astronomy – the science of celestial bodies – and especially the study of the Sun and its planets. The Télescope Bernard-Lyot, built in 1980, is an outstanding tool for scrutinizing the stars and galaxies.

Today, the observatory mainly operates in 3 fields:

Night activity in astrophysics

Two domes are devoted to professional night astronomy: the Télescope Bernard-Lyot (TBL) and the T1m, a one-meter telescope specializing in planetary astronomy, built in the Gentili dome.

The Télescope Bernard Lyot

Built in 1980 at an altitude of 2,877 m (9,438 ft), this telescope is the main sky sentinel in France with its 2 m-diameter primary mirror. Originally used for research in all astrophysics fields, its vocation shifted when NARVAL was built in 2006, making it the first observatory in the world dedicated to the study of stellar magnetism.



Why study the magnetic field of stars?

An essential ingredient in the life of stars, magnetic fields are both witnesses to their history and driving forces in their evolution. For instance, the magnetic field of the Sun might have caused the so-called "Little Ice Age" which reached its peak in Europe from the 16th to the 19th century. Magnetic fields are even likely to perturb the birth of stars by changing the amount of matter they emerge from. Yet, little is known about them: even the Solar magnetic field remains a mystery! A mystery which might be solved through observing the magnetic fields of other stars, just as a physician examines a number of patients to unveil the secrets of an illness.

First major results

The magnetic field of a star is akin to a common magnet, except its north and south poles reverse on a regular basis (about every 11 years in the case of the Sun). For the first time, an astrophysics research team has "caught" another star (Tau Boötis A) performing its "magnetic switch".

Tau Boötis A seems to switch poles more frequently than the Sun. Is this due to the presence of its close-orbiting giant planet? This discovery has given researchers a better understanding of how magnetic cycles function in stars like the Sun.

NARVAL was designed and built by the research teams as the Toulouse/Tarbes astrophysics laboratory, with funding from Région Midi-Pyrénées, the Ministry of Research, the European Union, Conseil général Hautes-Pyrénées and the CNRS.



The 1-meter telescope


Observation carried out at the "T1m" benefits from the outstanding image quality of the site, and the best CCD pictures yielded bear comparison with those provided by the Hubble Space Telescope. Activity is divided between systematic observation of the meteorology of giant planets (Jupiter and Saturn), monitoring the surface of Mars (particularly in the context of space missions), and more opportunistic campaigns to study comets passing nearby or other smaller bodies of our Solar system (asteroids).



Solar activity


Sun observation is carried out in two domes built on the East side of the Pic: the Lunette Jean-Rösch and the Coronograph.

Research currently carried out with the Lunette Jean-Rösch studies the dynamics of the Sun’s surface movements and magnetic field, using the 4000x4000-pixel wide-field camera CALAS for the photosphere, and a spectropolarimeter allowing to analyze the outer layers of the Sun such as the chromosphere. A Joint Observing Program (JOP 178) is also operated between the Lunette Jean-Rösch and Solar satellites SOHO, TRACE and Hinode. Observations also seek to investigate the geometry of the Sun and to determine its flattening, which is directly related to the physical conditions of its very core.

CLIMSO monitoring office

Recently implemented in the dome of the Coronograph, CLIMSO in an observation tool for the study of dynamic phenomena within the Solar atmosphere, taking into account the great variations in temperature, density, magnetic and electrical properties across different areas. It thus provides an overall diagnosis of the Sun’s activity (encompassing cold and hot coronae and surface events). Data from the instruments at the Pic du Midi are archived and made available via BASS 2000, the French ground-based Solar data bank.

Atmospheric activity

Since the late 19th century, the Pic du Midi observatory has provided results with strong international impact in two fields: the evolution of ozone concentration in the atmosphere, and that of temperature. These bear witness to the influence of human activity on the atmosphere and climate.
LA (Laboratoire d’Aérologie) also operates the Centre de Recherches atmosphériques (CRA) near Lannemezan, about 30 km from the Pic du Midi. The objective is to consolidate this dual site into a full-fledged "atmospheric observatory of the Région Midi-Pyrénées".

The two sites provide measurements for a number of observation services endorsed by INSU (Institut national des Sciences de l’Univers) or AllEnvi (Alliance nationale de Recherche pour l’Environnement):


PAES (Pollution atmosphérique à l'Échelle synoptique): an observation network on the chemical composition of the troposphere.

  • NDACC-France: the French component of the international Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change.
  • ICOS-France: the French component of the international Integrated Carbon Observation System (greenhouse gas monitoring).
  • ORAURE (Observations en Réseaux des Aérosols à Usage de Recherches environnementales): a network for the observation of aerosols aimed at environmental research.
  • ROSEA (Réseau d'Observatoires pour la Surveillance de l'Eau atmosphérique): a network for the monitoring of atmospheric water.

Together, these observation services are a strong asset for the long-term study of the dynamic, chemical and microphysical characteristics of the column of atmosphere above the site, from ground to stratosphere.

Structure de rattachement : Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées

Responsable : ABBADIE Jean-Marc

Adresse : 57 avenue d’Azereix 65000 TARBES

Tél/@ : 05 62 56 60 00

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