Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Yerkes Observatory

Yerkes Observatory

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Yerkes Observatory'
Start a new discussion about 'Yerkes Observatory'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia


Yerkes Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 in Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Williams Bay is a village in Walworth County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 2,415 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Williams Bay is located at ....

. The observatory, which calls itself "the birthplace of modern astrophysics," was founded in 1897 by George Ellery Hale
George Ellery Hale
George Ellery Hale was an American solar astronomer.-Biography:Hale was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was educated at MIT, at the Observatory of Harvard College, , and at Berlin . As an undergraduate at MIT, he is known for inventing the spectroheliograph, with which he made his discovery of...

 and financed by Charles T. Yerkes. It represented a shift in the thinking about observatories, from their being mere housing for telescopes and observers, to the modern concept of observation equipment integrated with laboratory space for physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

.

The Observatory has the largest refracting telescope
Refracting telescope
A refracting or refractor telescope is a type of optical telescope that uses a lens as its objective to form an image . The refracting telescope design was originally used in spy glasses and astronomical telescopes but is also used for long focus camera lenses...

 successfully used for astronomy and has a collection of over 100,000 photographic plates. The present (2010) director of the observatory is Dr. Kyle M. Cudworth.

Telescopes


Yerkes Observatory is most famous for its 102 cm (40 inch) refracting telescope
Refracting telescope
A refracting or refractor telescope is a type of optical telescope that uses a lens as its objective to form an image . The refracting telescope design was originally used in spy glasses and astronomical telescopes but is also used for long focus camera lenses...

 built by the master optician Alvan Clark
Alvan Clark
Alvan Clark , born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, the descendant of a Cape Cod whaling family of English ancestry, was an American astronomer and telescope maker. He was a portrait painter and engraver , and at the age of 40 became involved in telescope making...

. This is the largest refracting telescope used for scientific research (a larger demonstration refractor, the Great Paris Exhibition Telescope of 1900
Great Paris Exhibition Telescope of 1900
The Great Paris Exhibition Telescope of 1900, with an objective lens of 1.25 m in diameter, was the largest refracting telescope ever constructed. It was built as the centerpiece of the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900. Its construction was instigated in 1892 by François Deloncle , a member of...

, was exhibited at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900
Exposition Universelle (1900)
The Exposition Universelle of 1900 was a world's fair held in Paris, France, from April 15 to November 12, 1900, to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next...

). The 40-inch telescope was exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition
World's Columbian Exposition
The World's Columbian Exposition was a World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. Chicago bested New York City; Washington, D.C.; and St...

 in Chicago before being installed in the observatory.

In addition to the Yerkes refractor, the observatory also houses 102 cm (40 inch, referred to as the "41 inch" to prevent confusion) and 61 cm (24 inch) reflecting telescopes. Several smaller telescopes are used for educational outreach purposes.

Current Research


Present research activity includes work on the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

, globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

 formation, infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 astronomy, and near-Earth objects. Additionally, the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 maintains an engineering center in the observatory, dedicated to making and maintaining scientific instruments. As of 2011, the engineers are working on the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera (HAWC), which will be an integral part of Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center to construct and maintain an airborne observatory. NASA awarded the contract for the development of the aircraft, operation of the observatory and management of the American part of the...

. Research is also done utilizing Yerkes' collection of over 150,000 archival photographic plates that date back to the 1890's.

Development and preservation plans


In March 2005, the University of Chicago announced plans to sell the observatory and its land on the shore of Geneva Lake
Geneva Lake
Geneva Lake is a body of freshwater in southeastern Wisconsin in Walworth county. On its shores are the city of Lake Geneva, and the villages of Fontana-on-Geneva-Lake, and Williams Bay....

. Initial reports had two purchasers interested, Mirbeau, an east coast developer who wanted to build luxury homes, and Aurora University
Aurora University
Aurora University is a private, not-for-profit, co-educational liberal arts college located in Aurora, Illinois, 40 miles west of Chicago, Illinois. Additional university locations include the George Williams College campus in Williams Bay, Wisconsin and the Woodstock Center in Woodstock, Illinois...

, which has a campus straddling the Williams Bay property. The Geneva Lake Conservancy, a regional conservation and land trust
Land trust
There are two distinct definitions of a land trust:* a private, nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements; or* an agreement...

 organization, took the position that it was critical to save the historic Yerkes Observatory structures and telescopes for education and research, as well as to conserve the rare undeveloped, wooded lakefront and deep forest
Forest
A forest, also referred to as a wood or the woods, is an area with a high density of trees. As with cities, depending where you are in the world, what is considered a forest may vary significantly in size and have various classification according to how and what of the forest is composed...

 sections of the 77 acres (311,608.2 m²) site. On June 7, 2006, the University announced it would sell the facility to Mirbeau for US$8 million with stipulations to preserve the observatory, the surrounding 30 acres (121,405.8 m²), and the entire shoreline of the site. Under the Mirbeau plan, a 100-room resort with a large spa
Spa
The term spa is associated with water treatment which is also known as balneotherapy. Spa towns or spa resorts typically offer various health treatments. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are...

 operation and attendant parking and support facilities was to be located on the 9 acres (36,421.7 m²) virgin wooded Yerkes land on the lakeshore -- the last such undeveloped, natural site on Geneva Lake's 21-mile (34 km) shoreline. About seventy homes were to be developed on the upper Yerkes property, surrounding the historic observatory. These grounds were designed more than 100 years ago by John Olmsted, the brother of famed landscape architect
Landscape architect
A landscape architect is a person involved in the planning, design and sometimes direction of a landscape, garden, or distinct space. The professional practice is known as landscape architecture....

 Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted was an American journalist, social critic, public administrator, and landscape designer. He is popularly considered to be the father of American landscape architecture, although many scholars have bestowed that title upon Andrew Jackson Downing...

, designer of New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

's Central Park.

In view of the public controversy surrounding the development proposals, the university suspended these plans in January 2007. The university's department of astronomy and astrophysics then formed a study group, including representatives from the faculty and observatory and a wide range of other involved parties, to plan for the operation of a regional center for science education at the observatory. The study group began its work in February 2007 and its final report was issued November 30, 2007.Ultimately, Williams Bay's refusal to change the zoning from education to residential caused Mirbeau to abandon its development plans.

Popular culture


Yerkes Observatory is the setting for about seven minutes of the 1996 movie Chain Reaction
Chain Reaction (film)
Chain Reaction is a 1996 American film starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Brian Cox, Kevin Dunn and Fred Ward. It presents a fictional account of the invention of bubble fusion using sonoluminescence and the attempts by the United States Government to prevent the spreading of this...

. One of the principal characters, Maggie McDermott, is first seen looking through the big refractor. The movie features a gunfight on the roof of Yerkes Observatory and an airboat chase across frozen Geneva Lake.

External links