Fuertes Observatory to celebrate a century of scanning Ithaca skies

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Lindsey Hadlock

Fiery supernovae, delicate rings of ice, planet-hopping comets – visitors to Fuertes Observatory have seen them all. For 100 years, Fuertes Observatory has opened a window to the cosmos for the Cornell and Ithaca communities.

On Nov. 17, the Cornell Astronomical Society and Department of Astronomy invite the community to celebrate Fuertes’ centennial. “A Century of Observing at Fuertes” features Phil Nicholson, professor of astronomy, and Mike Roman ’06, Ph.D. ’15, reflecting on the observatory’s history and long-term impact. The talk will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Appel Service Center, Appel Commons, across from Fuertes Observatory, and is free.

“In the 100 years since this observatory opened, we’ve discovered amazing things about our solar system, our galaxy and the universe,” says Nicholson. “Having a telescope on campus means that everyone has the opportunity to share in the excitement of those discoveries.”

Every year, about 4,000 people visit Fuertes and its new museum focused on the history of astronomy at Cornell. The observatory is open every Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight for visitors to gaze through rooftop telescopes and view planets, galaxies and stars through the 95-year-old refractor, the Irving Porter Church Telescope.

Fuertes was the fifth observatory built by Cornell and opened in 1917. Until the 1950s, before the advent of radio time signals and GPS, it was used to teach Cornell civil engineering students how to use surveying transits, sextants and other equipment to survey land and determine time. It was also used to observe solar and lunar eclipses, planetary transits, to study the moon and to teach astrometry. Today, its telescope is one of only a handful that are operated much like they were in the early years of the 20th century.

Lind B. Glaser is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.


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