Harvard College Observatory

Harvard College Observatory

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The Harvard College Observatory (HCO) is an institution managing a complex of buildings and multiple instruments used for astronomical
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 research by the Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 Department of Astronomy. It is located in Cambridge
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent...

, Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, USA, and was founded in 1839. With the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is a research institute of the Smithsonian Institution headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it is joined with the Harvard College Observatory to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics .-History:The SAO was founded in 1890 by...

, it forms part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
The Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is one of the largest and most diverse astrophysical institutions in the world, where scientists carry out a broad program of research in astronomy, astrophysics, earth and space sciences, and science education...


HCO houses a collection of approximately 500,000 astronomical plates taken between the mid-1880s and 1989 (with a gap from 1953–68). This 100-year coverage is a unique resource for studying temporal variations in the universe. A project currently is underway to digitally scan and archive these photographic plates.


In 1839, the Harvard Corporation voted to appoint William Cranch Bond
William Cranch Bond
William Cranch Bond was an American astronomer, and the first director of Harvard College Observatory.- Upbringing :William Cranch Bond was born in Falmouth, Maine on September 9, 1789...

, a prominent Boston clockmaker, as "Astronomical Observer to the University" (at no salary). This marked the founding of the Harvard College Observatory. HCO's first telescope, the 15-inch Great Refractor, was installed in 1847.

Between 1847 and 1852 Bond and pioneer photographer John Adams Whipple
John Adams Whipple
John Adams Whipple was an American inventor and early photographer. He was the first in the United States to manufacture the chemicals used for daguerreotypes; he pioneered astronomical and night photography; he was a prize-winner for his extraordinary early photographs of the moon; and he was the...

 used the Great Refractor
Great refractor
Great refractor refers to a large telescope with a lens, usually the largest refractor at an observatory with an equatorial mount. The preeminence and success of this style in observational astronomy was an era in telescope use in the 19th and early 20th century. Great refractors were large...

 telescope to produce images of the moon that are remarkable in their clarity of detail and aesthetic power. This was the largest telescope in North America at that time, and their images of the moon took the prize for technical excellence in photography at the 1851 Great Exhibition
The Great Exhibition
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations or The Great Exhibition, sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held, was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October...

 at The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. On the night of July 16–17, 1850, Whipple and Bond made the first daguerreotype
The daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process. The image is a direct positive made in the camera on a silvered copper plate....

 of a star (Vega).

Harvard College Observatory is historically important to astronomy, as many women including Annie Jump Cannon
Annie Jump Cannon
Annie Jump Cannon was an American astronomer whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. With Edward C...

, Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Henrietta Swan Leavitt was an American astronomer. A graduate of Radcliffe College, Leavitt went to work in 1893 at the Harvard College Observatory in a menial capacity as a "computer", assigned to count images on photographic plates...

, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
-Further reading:*Rubin, Vera , "Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin" in OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics, Nina Byers and Gary Williams, ed., Cambridge University Press ....

 performed pivotal stellar classification
Stellar classification
In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. The spectral class of a star is a designated class of a star describing the ionization of its chromosphere, what atomic excitations are most prominent in the light, giving an objective measure...

 research. Cannon and Leavitt were hired initially as "computer
Human computer
The term "computer", in use from the mid 17th century, meant "one who computes": a person performing mathematical calculations, before electronic computers became commercially available....

s" to perform calculations and examine stellar photographs, but later made insightful connections in their research.

In 1908, the observatory published the Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue, which gave rise to the HR star catalogue, now maintained by the Yale University Observatory
Yale University Observatory
-History:Yale's first observatory, the Atheneum, was situated in a tower, which from 1830 housed Yale's first and America's largest refractor, a Dollond donated by Sheldon Clark. With this telescope Olmsted and Elias Loomis made the first American sighting of the return of Halley's Comet in 1835....

 as the Bright Star Catalogue
Bright Star Catalogue
The Bright Star Catalogue, also known as the Yale Catalogue of Bright Stars or Yale Bright Star Catalogue, is a star catalogue that lists all stars of stellar magnitude 6.5 or brighter, which is roughly every star visible to the naked eye from Earth. It is currently available online in its 5th...



  • William Cranch Bond
    William Cranch Bond
    William Cranch Bond was an American astronomer, and the first director of Harvard College Observatory.- Upbringing :William Cranch Bond was born in Falmouth, Maine on September 9, 1789...

  • George Phillips Bond
    George Phillips Bond
    George Phillips Bond was an American astronomer. He was the son of William Cranch Bond. Some sources give his year of birth as 1826....

  • Joseph Winlock
    Joseph Winlock (astronomer)
    Joseph Winlock was an American astronomer and mathematician.He was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, the grandson of General Joseph Winlock...

    : 1866-1875
  • Edward Charles Pickering
    Edward Charles Pickering
    Edward Charles Pickering was an American astronomer and physicist, brother of William Henry Pickering.Along with Carl Vogel, Pickering discovered the first spectroscopic binary stars. He wrote Elements of Physical Manipulations .Pickering attended Boston Latin School, and received his B.S. from...

  • Solon Irving Bailey 1919-1921 (Acting Director)
  • Harlow Shapley
    Harlow Shapley
    Harlow Shapley was an American astronomer.-Career:He was born on a farm in Nashville, Missouri, and dropped out of school with only the equivalent of a fifth-grade education...

  • Donald H. Menzel 1952-1953 (Acting Director); 1954-1966 (Director)
  • Leo Goldberg
    Leo Goldberg
    Leo Goldberg was an American astronomer who held professorships at Harvard and the University of Michigan and the directorships of several major observatories. He was president of both the International Astronomical Union and the American Astronomical Society...

  • George B. Field
    George B. Field
    George B. Field is an American astrophysicist.- Education and career :Field became interested in astronomy at an early age, but at the urging of his father he studied chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Disliking engineering, he later switched to astrophysics...


See also

  • Sears Tower-Harvard Observatory
    Sears Tower-Harvard Observatory
    Sears Tower—Harvard Observatory is an historic observatory that is part of Harvard Observatory and is located at 60 Garden Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.The tower was built in 1843 and added to the National Historic Register in 1987....

  • The Minor Planet Center
    Minor Planet Center
    The Minor Planet Center operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory , which is part of the Center for Astrophysics along with the Harvard College Observatory ....

     credits many asteroid
    Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

     discoveries to "Harvard Observatory."
  • See List of largest optical refracting telescopes, for other 'great refractors'

External links