Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Goodnight Ithaca, a magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
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Ithaca, N.Y. – Fuertes Observatory at Cornell University celebrated the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope and prepared plans for new museum exhibits on Friday, April 24.

Watch a video: Cornell’s Fuertes Observatory, one of the last of its kind:


Fuertes normally holds Friday night viewings, and in addition, Don Barry, a staff astronomer at Cornell and who also has experience with the Spitzer space telescope, gave a lecture about the history and political overview of the Hubble telescope. Visitors in Ithaca for the 150th anniversary of Cornell attended the event.

The observatory hosts about 50-100 visitors in the winter and 200 on a warm summer night when there aren’t any special events, according to Sam Newman-Stonebreaker, the president of the Cornell Astronomical Society. The society is a campus organization that hosts the open house views every Friday night, and is a collection of both undergraduate and graduate students from all types of majors and helped launch a Crowdfunding campaign for the observatory that raised $9,000 for the creation of new exhibits.

The campaign was launched in early February, and later this year, visitors will also be able to visit two new museum exhibits in the Fuertes Observatory, Brecken Blackburn, the Vice President of the Astronomical Society, said. One exhibit is going to contain hands-on artifacts for kids and another is going to display some of the more historic telescopes that are in the observatory.

The members of the society will help point out the features of the sky that is most prominent in that season. During the early spring, one can peer at Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and the Orion Nebula.

“It’s funny, some people who haven’t look through the telescope before will see [Saturn] and say ‘You’re lying you just put a picture in there!’ But no, it’s really Saturn and you can really see the rings and everything,” Blackburn said.

The observatory makes space and science more accessible to the Ithaca community, graduate student Michael Roman said.

“By virtue that it is accessible to the wider public, the observatory serves as a collective community resource,” he said. “People get the opportunity to observe celestial objects like planets, galaxies, and star clusters, with their own eyes through a relatively large telescope.”

The observatory is a useful resource for all people in the community, Barry said.

“A visit to the observatory gives a student or community member a chance to see with their own eyes some of the more photogenic members of the cosmic zoo,” he said.

Fuertes is home to a bright blue, 15 feet long Irving Porter Church Telescope, built in 1923 and called “Irv” for short by the students. Although it is 92 years old, the telescope is still accurate despite being calibrated only once in 1990. It is a refracting telescope, meaning its strength comes from a stack of lenses, each 12 inches in diameter.

Fuertes was built in 1916 to teach navigation and celestial timekeeping to civil engineering students, Barry said. The expansion should encourage more visitors and continue to keep the universe accessible to everyone in the community.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.