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History

"Institute Plans Observatory: Students Impressed..." In 1940, the Physics Department at Rensselaer began work on its own astronomical observatory. It would sit "on the ridge south of the Russell Sage Dining Hall overlooking the 87 field" where we today find the Center for Industrial Innovation (the Lowe building, or "CII").


Article from The Rensselaer Polytechnic, October 1940

Dedication: The original observatory was dedicated in September 1942 in an address by Prof. Bart J. Bok, then a member of Harvard College Observatory.
The Observatory's construction was sponsored by Rensselaer Physics Professor G. Howard Carragan, and the telescope (visible in the photo to the left) was built by Otto Rasmussen, the Physics Department's instrument maker. To quote the Polytechnic article from 30 September 1942, "the observatory has a 16-foot dome, housing a Newtonian reflecting telescope with a 12-inch mirror and a focal length of 65 inches ... which would have cost $1500 had it been bought outside [Rensselaer]..."


left to right: Westbrook (Astrophysics Society), G H Carragan, O Rasmussen, President W O Hotchkins, B J Bok, Winslow (professor)


This page was designed by P.A. Gerakines.
Last modified: Monday, September 15, 1997


The Student Observatory was completed on campus in 1942. The 12" reflector built here on campus was sheltered under a 16' dome. The observatory was even featured in the October of 1942 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine!


The 12" equatorial reflector is shown in use prior to the observatory (below) as well at the 1942 dedication ceremony (far below). Today, the instrument sits on display in the lobby of the observatory as a testament to the fine craftsmanship of Otto Rasmussen (the department's instrument maker, who oversaw the construction effort) as well as the RAS members who assisted.


In 1980, the General Electric company donated the Boller and Chivens 16" Cassegrain telescope currently in use.


The Hirsch Observatory was expanded and dedicated to celebrate the event. Today, the RAS is based in the Hirsch Observatory on the roof of the Jonsson Rowland Science Center. The observatory (reduced in size and scope) was moved here to accommodate the construction of the George M Low, Center for Industrial Innovation building.


Today the Hirsch Observatory is used by Observational Astronomy Researchers, as well as members of the Astrophysical Society in their laboratory exercises. The Physics Department, and members of the RAS also offer frequent public viewing sessions at the observatory that are well attended by the RPI and the Troy communities.


pictures by: Gregg Talewsky
information from RAS Club History