On Mt. Jefferson, just outside Charlottesville, Va., is the McCormick Observatory of the University of Virginia. It is open to the public every first and third Friday night each month.
The night I was there was beautifully clear, a perfect night for viewing the heavens. Each of the visitors got a chance to sit with the astronomer on a ladder-like seat that can be moved around the observatory by means of pulling ropes, and to look through the eye-piece. When it was my turn I was astonished at what I saw: there was Saturn, just as it looks in color pictures, with all its rings, very clear. I also saw Jupiter and three of its moons, and had a look at distant Uranus.
We were viewing these planets through the 26 1/4 inch F/15 Clark refractor. This fine insturment, almost 100 years old, was the gift of Leander McCormick, son of the inventor of the reaper. Mr. McCormick had planned to give a refracting telescope (the largest of its kind) to Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). Robert E. Lee, then president of the college, declined the gift, saying a college so small would be unable financially to maintain the insturment.
Learning of this refusal, Charles Venable of the University of Virginia secured funds from the Vanderbilt family and persuaded McCormick to give the telescope to the University of Virginia. The observatory was built in 1883.
The objective lens and telescope were made by Alvan Clark and Sons, finest optical makers in the world at that time. The observatory dome made by Warner and Swasey was another engineering achievement. The dome weighs 12.5 tons and measures 45 feet in diameter, yet is so delicately balanced it can be rotated by hand with ease. In 1960 a small electric motor was installed to take place of hand rotation.
All over the country -- and the world -- there are colleges and universities where people are studying the heavens. At these observatories, time is often set aside for the public to visit. Usually these evenings provide a talk first, which is followed by observing, weather permitting.
All the observatories on this list are open to the public on occasion. If none of these is near you or fits in with a trip, why not phone a college or university nearby for information. McCormick Observatory University of Virginia Charlottesville, Va. 22903 (804) 924-7494 Harvard College Observatory Harvard University 64 Garden Stree Cambridge, Mass.02138 (617) 495-3967 University of Wisconsin Astronomy Department Madison, Wis.53706 (608) 262-3071 University of Arizona Astronomy Department Tucson, Ariz. 85721 (602) 626-2288 Ohio State University Astronomy Department Columbus, Ohio 43210 (614) 422-1773 Princeton University Astronomy Department Princeton, N. J. 08540 (609)452-3000 University of Texas Astronomy Department Austin, Texas 78712 (512) 471-4462 Lick Observatory University of California Mt. Hamilton, Calif. 95140 (408) 274-5061 Yerkes Observatory University of Chicago Williams Bay, Wisconson 53191 (414) 245-5555 Hale Observatory Mount Polamar, California 92060 (714) 742-3476 David Dunlap Observatory University of Toronto Richmond Hill, Ontario L4C4Y6 Canada Cerro Tololo International Observatory La Serena, Chile Mount Stromlo Observatory Australian Capitol Territory 2606 Canberra, Australia Mauna Kea Observatory University of Hawaii 2680 Woodlawn Drive Honolulu Hawaii 96822 Tokyo Astronomical Observatory University of Tokyo Osawa, Mitaka-SH1 Tokyo 185 Japan Cape of Good Hope Royal Observatory Cape Town, South Africa Special Astrophysical Observatory Zelenchukskaya, Russia (near Cherkessk) Royal Greenwich Observatory Hailsham, East Sussex BN27 IRP Herstmonaeux, England