Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research

Fuertes Observatory’s new museum goes 'back to the future'

February 3rd, 2017

Thanks to the Cornell Astronomical Society, Cornell’s Fuertes Observatory has a new museum featuring vintage observatory instruments, many collected in the 19th century by Estevan Fuertes, founding dean of Cornell’s civil engineering department.

“This place has come alive. It used to be a storage facility. It’s no longer a storage closet with telescopes on top, this museum has a heartbeat,” said Rushaniya Fazliyeva ’18, an astronomical society member.

While visitors wait their turn to scan the universe on the observatory’s roof, down below they can admire the astronomical, engineering and surveying tools from yesteryear. Built in 1917, the observatory taught engineering students how to operate cutting-edge surveying tools. The observatory is open every Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Several instruments sit on their original piers, heavy pillars that keep the instruments stable. One of the museum’s displays, the astronomical transit, built by Troughton and Simms (London), was a fundamental 19th-century instrument that measured a star’s passage across the local meridian to reckon time and longitude. On another pier sits a zenith telescope by Fauth & Co., Washington, D.C., complete with the glass from the famed Alvan Clark and Sons, likely purchased around 1891.

“Some instruments were a little dusty, others needed tender loving care,” said Mike Roman, Ph.D. ’15, who spearheaded efforts to restore most of the instruments when he was a graduate student. “We took a conservator’s approach to gently cleaning each piece, disassembling to remove the dirt and oxidized oils from the bearings, all while retaining the original finishes and patinas.”

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