Yerkes Observatory to close

Forums General Discussion Yerkes Observatory to close

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    Denis Buczynski

    Hello all,

    This sad news arrived yesterday.

    —– Forwarded Message —–

    From: “Edward W. (Rocky) Kolb”

    To: “Edward W. (Rocky) Kolb”


    Sent: Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 2:30 PM

    Subject: Concluding operations at Yerkes Observatory

    To: Astronomy & Astrophysics Alumni

    From: Rocky Kolb, Dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences

    Subject: Concluding operations at Yerkes Observatory

    Date: March 7, 2018

    Dear Astronomy & Astrophysics Alum,

    Today the University announced that its activities at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, will end in 2018. Current plans are to maintain programming over the summer as much as possible, and to cease all University operations no later than October 1, 2018.

    Our staff will be assisting the Yerkes staff with plans to end or relocate their programs. Executive Vice President David Fithian will lead a team to assess potential future uses and stewards of the facilities, grounds, and other University property. Some of the important education and outreach programs, which will remain a priority for the University, will be relocated to the Hyde Park campus.

    The Observatory is a facility of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the University of Chicago and was established in 1897. Until the mid-1960s, Yerkes housed all of the Department’s activities. Today, the 77-acre, park-like site in southeast Wisconsin provides laboratory space and access to telescopes for research and instruction.

    The goal of the Division of the Physical Sciences is Preeminence in the Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and resources must be directed toward that goal. The Yerkes historic facility and its instrumentation no longer contributes directly to the research mission of the University of Chicago, which has made major investments in the Magellan and Giant Magellan telescopes in Chile. Yerkes has continued to make important contributions through its education and outreach programs, and that work, which remains important to the University, will now relocate to the Hyde Park campus. Yerkes is an historic observatory, deeply part of the legacy of our Department and the history of astronomy. But the University must finally act on the fact that operating Yerkes no longer makes sense from a programmatic or cost standpoint. Drawing to a close our historic operations there is the first step in a collaborative process to determine the ultimate disposition of the buildings and property.

    If you have questions, let me know.



    Peter Mulligan

    Hi Denis

    That’s very sad news such an historic Observatory with its 40 inch refractor.  I have just finished reading the ” The Glass Universe” by Dava Sobel,  all about the lady computers at Harvard in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s. The Yerkes Observatory is mentioned quite a few times in there



    Sad news indeed, if Yerkes is to close.

    I visited in 2014, and give a talk about my visit –    The observatory is a beautiful place with ornate and elegant architecture, and of course it hosts the world’s largest refractor.

    The site is prime real estate on the shores of Geneva Lake, and I know Chicago Uni have made previous attempts to realise their asset. But what is to happen to the telescopes? I suspect it would be prohibitively expensive to build a new dome somewhere else. 

    David Strange

    Also sad to hear this. Here’s an historic pic of Yerkes from Jim Lockyer’s photo album from 1911. Shows Frank McClean standing next to Prof. & Mrs Barnard on threshold of the fine observatory.


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