Telescopes I've Seen - Leander McCormick Observatory

Leander McCormick Observatory, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

McCormick Observatory dome

This ivy-covered dome houses the Leander McCormick 26-inch refractor, part of the spate of large refractors which marked the state of the art in the late 19th century. It was donated to Mr Jefferson's University in 1870, and sits on a hilltop known as Mt. Jefferson (see the official history). It is just up the road (quite literally) from the headquarters of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, making for a pleasant diversionary stroll for summer students at NRAO (at least that's when I wandered by). The site can be seen in this USGS aerial photograph from Terraserver. The observatory is best known, like the (late) Thaw refractor of Allegheny Observatory, for extensive work on stellar parallaxes. The McCormick telescope seems to have narrowly escaped a similar fate, since I notice that the UVa astronomy web site lists it as the McCormick Museum, although it is also listed as being outfitted for teaching at both graduate and undergraduate levels. UVA astronomer Ricky Patterson provides the following information (along with correcting my misidentification of a water tank as the dome in the USGS pictures):

"We stopped taking parallax plates about 10 years ago for a number of reasons. Lack of a supplier for the emulsions, Charlottesville is really quite bright, and not getting fainter, and Hipparcos has observed the bright stars, so we need to go elsewhere to get the "scientifically interesting" parallaxes now (a 1-m with a CCD). We have been taking CCD parallaxes in the southern hemisphere for over a decade in Australia on the 1-m at Siding Spring (an outgrowth of a photographic plate program started in the mid-1970s using the "Yale Columbia" refractor at Mt Stromlo). Our observing program has essentially ended in Australia, and we are concentrating our efforts using the small telescopes at CTIO (as part of the NOAO survery program led by Todd Henry called CTIO-PI). In the northern hemisphere, we are concentrating our efforts at Fan Mountain, where we are upgrading the 1-m reflector in order to carry out various projects including some parallax work in the future. The McCormick refractor is now used for undergraduate major and graduate student lab work, as well as undergraduate non-major supervised observing, and it is the major attraction for our visitor's night program, held twice a month (with perhaps an additional half dozen group visits per month). The "Museum" part of the webpage is supposed to be refering to the rest of the observatory building, which contains historical exhibits, as well as some art exhibits which we have had on display in a few small rooms."

Telescope Collection

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