Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

On November 17th, the Fuertes Observatory will celebrate its centenary.

November 16, 2017

Fuertes Observatory Celebrates 100 Years of Scanning the Skies

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This Friday, the Fuertes Observatory will celebrate 100 years of equipping visitors to view the intriguing ongoings of space.

The Cornell Department of Astronomy and Astronomical Society is hosting a discussion to analyze the impactful history of the observatory. Students and community members have the opportunity to listen to Mike Roman ’06, Ph.D.’15, and Prof. Phil Nicholson, astronomy, as they analyze the legacy of the astronomy center.

The Fuertes Observatory began its investigation of the Ithacan sky in 1917, but it is actually not the first observatory on campus; it is actually the fifth, according to the Cornell Astronomical Society. The first observatory was composed of wood and was located within the Arts Quad where Goldwin Smith Hall now stands.

Prof. Estevan Fuertes served as inspiration for the observatory. Fuertes came to teach at Cornell in 1873, after having previously worked as a civil engineer researching ship canals in Nicaragua and Panama. Andrew Dickson White’s vision to have training coexist with education attracted the skilled professor to the university, according to the Astronomical Society’s website.

Fuertes then went on to devote 29 years of his life to teaching at Cornell.

During his career, Fuertes taught civil engineers astronomical observations as before the introduction of GPS satellites and radio time signals, understanding astronomy was essential to construct geographical surveys and keep accurate time.

While the observatory is no longer used for research, it continues to play a major role in outreach and hands-on learning.

“Fuertes is one of the main ways for Cornell to perform astronomy outreach, so it is extremely vital to the campus,” Zach Whipps ’20, vice president of Cornell Astronomical Society, said. “We reach out to several thousand people a year.”

“I think that Fuertes won’t directly be a factor in astronomy at Cornell in the future, at least as far as actual research goes. Instead, it has more of a residual effect. People who are really interested in astronomy will aggregate there to talk about it and perform outreach to the public,” Whipps added.

Introductory astronomy classes continue to hold lab sessions at Fuertes. The observatory is open to the Ithaca and Cornell community on Friday nights as facilitated by the Cornell Astronomical Society.

The public is welcome to to celebrate free of charge the centennial of the observatory beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Appel Service Center. After the discussion held by Roman and Nicholson, the Fuertes Observatory will open for a public viewing of the night sky from 8 p.m. until midnight.