Yale University Observatory

Yale University Observatory

Yale University Observatory

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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. (August 31; seen in Europe August 6, but no news of this had reached America). The telescope was mounted on casters and moved from window to window, but it could not reach altitudes much over 30 deg above the horizon.

Still later, in 1870, a cylindrical turret was added above the tower, so that all altitudes could be reached. The building was demolished in 1893 and the telescope is now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The observatory, in the turret (modelled after the gun turret of the ironclad ship USS Monitor), housed a Alvan Clark refractor donated by Joseph E. Sheffield. The telescope was later housed in the dome on Bingham Hall (the dome later converted to a small planetarium, and now used as an experimental aquarium).

An telescope financed by E.M. Reed of New Haven was first used for photographing the Sun during the Transit of Venus on December 6, 1882.

The observatory also possessed an heliometer, ordered from Repsold and Sons by H. A. Newton in 1880, delivered in time for measurements of the Transit of Venus on December 6, 1882 for determination of solar parallax. This is the same type of instrument that Friedrich Bessel used in 1838 for the first...
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