Saturday, September 08, 2007


It's Not Just Us

Full Telescope One of the things we did on our trip to Lake Geneva last weekend was visit the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay. Built in 1897, its 40-inch refracting telescope was the largest telescope in the world at the time, and still the largest refracting telescope ever used. Our tour was about evenly divided between discussion of the site's amazing architecture and history and talk about the observatory's uncertain future -- sitting, as it is, on the last good chunk of undeveloped lakefront property. The last couple of years of articles make fascinating reading; the University of Chicago has backed off of its original plans to sell off the land to a developer (to build a luxury resort and homes) due to a huge outcry from the local and astronomical community. (Also of interest from a preservation standpoint: what to do with 100,000 glass plates that can't yet be effectively digitized.)

Yerkes is working to transform its mission into becoming a center for science education in the region; currently doing tours, outreach to Chicago-area students, star parties, telescope observation, etc. A UC study group is working on the plan to best use the site as a regional science education center.

Yerkes Entrance PillarGargoyle Guy Gargoyle on Yerkes

It's useful sometimes to step outside of our little library world and look at the larger issues of what we as a society value and how we can ensure that our institutions remain both faithful to their roots and viable in the 21st century.

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