Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay

Must see · Observatory · Museum
Yerkes Observatory ( YUR-keez) is an astronomical observatory located in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, U.S.A. It was operated by the University of Chicago Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics from its founding in 1897 to 2020. Ownership was transferred to the non-profit Yerkes Future Foundation (YFF) in May, 2020.

The observatory, sometimes called "the birthplace of modern astrophysics", was founded in 1892 by astronomer George Ellery Hale and financed by businessman Charles T. Yerkes.

It represented a shift in the thinking about observatories, from their being mere housing for telescopes and observers, to the early-20th-century concept of observation equipment integrated with laboratory space for physics and chemistry analysis.

The observatory's main dome houses a 40-inch (102-cm) diameter doublet lens refracting telescope, the largest refractor ever successfully used for astronomy. Two smaller domes house 40 in (100 cm) and 24 in (61 cm) reflecting telescopes. There are several smaller telescopes - some permanently mounted - that are primarily used for educational purposes. The observatory also holds a collection of over 170,000 photographic plates.
The Yerkes 40-inch was the largest refracting-type telescope in the world when it was dedicated although there had been several larger reflecting telescopes. During this time, there were many questions about the merits of the various materials used to construct and design telescopes. Another large telescope of this period was the Great Melbourne Telescope, which was also a reflector. In the United States, the Lick refractor had just a few years earlier come online in California with a 91-cm lens.

Prior to its installation, the telescope on its enormous German equatorial mount was shown at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago during the time the observatory was under construction.

The observatory was a center for serious astronomical research for more than 100 years. By the 21st century, however, it had reached the end of its research life. The University of Chicago closed the Observatory to the public in October 2018. In November 2019, "an agreement in principle" was announced that the University would transfer Yerkes Observatory to the non-profit Yerkes Future Foundation (YFF). The transfer of ownership took place on May 1, 2020.
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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
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  • While it is currently closed to the public, a Foundation has been established to re-open at some time in the future. Put it on your wish list. There is really nothing like the Yerkes Observatory in....  more »
  • We visited last month and discovered that it has been closed for about a year. There are hoping to reopen it in about a year. Beautiful building!  more »
Google
  • Yerkes Observatory is over all amazing! I'm terribly sad they're selling it, it's such a historical artifact. Albert Einstein has been there, and it is the largest refracting telescope in the world. Hopefully someone buys it and keeps it preserved so Yerkes can stay for lots of more years to come!
  • Awesome place to learn about the planet's and to see the stars and to learn what every star means to

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