Yuri's Night opens campaign to fix up Fuertes Observatory

For 100 years, Cornell’s Fuertes Observatory has been wowing students – and the Ithaca community – with galactic wonders.

To ensure that Fuertes’ gifts keep giving for another century, the Cornell Astronomical Society is launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for renovations. The campaign kicks off with the annual Yuri’s Night event, this year on Friday, April 14, from 7 p.m. to midnight at the observatory. The evening will feature “astronaut food,” tours of the museum and observatory, and, if the night is clear, astronomical observing. There will also be a talk by Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute.

Kaltenegger’s talk, “Thousands of New Worlds,” will focus on the search for exoplanets.

“For the first time in human history we have the technology to detect other worlds that could be habitable,” said Kaltenegger. “The detection of exoplanets orbiting alien suns has revolutionized the view of our place in the universe.”

Every year, about 4,000 people visit Fuertes and its new museum focused on the history of astronomy at Cornell. Every Friday, the observatory is open from 8 p.m. to midnight for visitors to gaze through rooftop telescopes and view the planets, galaxies and stars through the 94-year-old refractor, the Irving Porter Church Telescope.

“For all these years, the Fuertes Observatory has been teaching the community about the wonders of space and science,” said Sam Newman-Stonebraker ’17, president of the Cornell Astronomical Society. “But after so much time, parts of the building have fallen into disrepair and are in need of upgrading and renovation. The Fuertes Observatory Centennial Renovation Project will ensure that Fuertes will be here for everyone in another hundred years.”

Crowdfunding goals include raising funds to renovate the classroom to accommodate more people and provide better audiovisual capabilities.

“But our biggest goal is to renovate the dome room, which is the crown jewel of the observatory,” Newman-Stonebraker said.

“When you go up to the dome and look through the refractor, it connects you to all those adventurers who gazed at the stars and tried to figure fundamental things out about our universe, knowledge we now take for granted,” Kaltenegger said. “So having Fuertes open to everyone to share the wonders of the cosmos – and preserving it – are very important.”

Kaltenegger’s research focuses on detecting signs of life on other worlds. Her awards include the 2014 Doppler Prize for Innovation in Science and the 2012 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize for Physics. She was named an innovator to watch by Time, a Role Model for Women in Science and Research by the European Commission, and one of America’s Young Innovators by Smithsonian Magazine. She is the star of the new IMAX movie “Search for Life in Space”; Asteroid 7734 Kaltenegger is named after her.

Yuri’s Night is held in honor of the first human to cross into outer space, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. The event is hosted by the Cornell Astronomical Society with support from the Department of Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Crowdfunding contributions can be made at https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/3940.

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

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