The Cincinnati Observatory

The lovely Robin and I fulfilled a longtime goal of mine last night on our date night (#1 on my list of 9 Things I Would Like to Do in This Area) with a visit to the Cincinnati Observatory on Mt. Lookout.

There are actually two observatories there, one (above) designed by Samuel Hannaford (who designed Cincinnati's city hall and music hall), and the Mitchel building (below).The Mitchel building, which houses the oldest telescope on the site, is named for Ormsby McKnight Mitchel. He was a Professor at Cincinnati College (now University of Cincinnati) and the father of the Cincinnati Astronomical Society, which eventually gave birth to the observatory. In 1842, he went to Munich and there inspected a twelve-inch objective lens and ordered it for the observatory. Upon his return to the US, Mitchel undertook the supervision of the construction of the observatory. The first observatory building was located on Mt. Ida, in Cincinnati; after former president John Quincy Adams traveled to Cincinnati to lay the observatory's cornerstone in 1843, Mt. Ida was renamed Mt. Adams in the president's honor. In 1871 the University of Cincinnati took over control of the Observatory, and in 1873 it was moved to its current location on Mount Lookout, in order to be free of the pollution and lights of the growing city.

In 1979 the Observatory formally became part of the Physics Department of the University of Cincinnati. The Observatory continued to be used for public education and research, but fell into a state of general disrepair. In the late 1990s, the Cincinnati Observatory Center was formed as a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing and preserving the Cincinnati Observatory and its historic setting. The site was granted National Historic Landmark designation, and millions of dollars were raised to restore it as a museum and educational center. The renovations restored it in keeping with its character and status as a late nineteenth-century astronomical observatory, and as the birthplace of American astronomy.

Mitchel's original telescope (below), which had been installed in the Mt. Adams observatory in 1845, was installed in the main observatory building in 1873 and then moved once more in 1904 into the newer building.

The 1904 telescope, sixteen-inch refractor built by Alvan Clark & Sons, is pictured below. Both telescopes still work and are still in use. However, as last night was quite cloudy, we weren't able to do any stargazing. But I loved the demonstration of the massive domes that not only open a slit for the telescope to peer through but also rotate to allow stargazers to see anywhere they wish in the night sky, and to follow an object, whether because it moves or because the earth does.

It was a lovely and educational evening at an historic spot. I even got to close "the gap" on the dome at the conclusion of our tour guide's remarks in the old observatory building. So I can add "astronomy technician" to my resume.

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