Some Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: How old are your telescopes?

A: We have two historic telescopes. One, which dates back to 1843, is the oldest professional telescope in the United States. We refer to this telescope as the “Merz and Mahler” telescope – after the guys who made it in Munich, Germany. This is an 11 inch refractor telescope which we use during most programs.

Our other historic telescope was made in 1904 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts by Alvan Clark and Sons. This is a 16 inch refractor telescope which sits in our larger building.


Q: What is a refractor telescope?

A: A refractor telescope is the classic design most people think of when they think of telescopes. It has a lens (or two) at the top of the telescope which focuses light through a hollow tube. You look through an eyepiece at the bottom of the telescope.

Refractors are one type of telescope design, but we also have many reflector telescopes as well.


Q: What is a reflector telescope?

A: Instead of a lens, reflector telescopes use a series of mirrors. The main mirror is located at the bottom of the telescope. This mirror collects light and reflects it up to a secondary mirror which reflects the image out the side of the tube. You look through an eyepiece on the side of the telescope instead of the bottom like a refractor.


mitchelsnow2Q: There are two buildings on your campus. How old are they?

A: The main building was built in 1873 and designed by the famous architect Samuel Hannaford (who also designed City Hall and Music Hall in Cincinnati). Originally, the building had a cylindrical turret instead of a dome that rotated on old cannonballs. The dome was added in 1895. The 16” Clark telescope resides here.

The smaller building was built in 1904 and features two domes - one for the old 11” Merz and Mahler telescope and a smaller cone-shaped dome that was used for comet hunting.

Q: Is the Cincinnati Observatory famous for discovering anything?

A: The greatest thing discovered in our telescope was a new star orbiting the star Antares. Antares is a red giant star marking the heart of Scorpius the scorpion. Most of the work done at the Observatory involved studying double stars and computing the orbits of minor planets (asteroids and moons).

Q: Were any comets discovered at the Observatory?

A: Unfortunately not. We even have a room specially designed to hunt comets. We call it our “cone room” because the shape of the dome resembles a cone more than a dome. Through a bad design, bad weather, and bad luck, we have never discovered one comet.

Q: I have a telescope that I don’t know how to use. Can you help?

A: Of course! We have classes on getting the most out of your scope or you can just call us for advice. We can show you all the functions and line up your optics. We want you to get out and use your scope and not let it collect dust.

Q: I want to buy a telescope. What do you recommend?

A: We recommend that buying a telescope should be the last thing you do. First learn the sky with the naked eye so you can find your way around. Then work up to binoculars – that lets you see a whole lot more than you think. Then you’re ready for a telescope.

Everyone has a different opinion on what is the best. Give us a call and we can guide you through it – what size, what type, how much do you want to spend, what brand. We carry Orion telescopes for sale at the Observatory. As a general rule, you will need to spend at least $250 for a good telescope. $100 scopes as almost never worth a darn.

Q: Can anyone come see through the telescopes? Are you open to the public?

A: Yes, most definitely! Our telescopes are used almost every clear night. School and scout groups are scheduled on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. The public nights are Thursdays and Fridays. Special events and private parties are on Saturdays. And on Sunday afternoons we have history tours on the 2nd and fourth week of the month and various classes and viewings Sunday night. We always recommend calling ahead to make reservations. And if you have some free time during the day, you’re welcome to come see us.

Q: What can you do there during the day?

A: Seeing the telescopes and how they work is often the most exciting aspect of our day tours. We rotate the domes and may even let you move the scopes around. Also, if it is clear we have white light and hydrogen-alpha filters to allow us to see the sun safely. A nice solar flare is a wonderful sight to behold.

Q: If it’s clear at night, what do you normally observe?

A: If available we mostly look at the Moon and planets. The craters of the Moon, bands on Jupiter, and rings of Saturn are the highlights. Depending on the season we may look at double stars with contrasting colors, star clusters like M13 and M35, the Orion Nebula, or even a galaxy.

 Q: What is the coolest thing to see through the telescopes?

A: Although Mars is the most popular object to view, the rings of Saturn are probably the most amazing to behold. Your view seems unreal and many visitors ask, “Did you put a sticker on the end of the telescope?” because it is so perfect.

If you have any other questions feel free to contact us.

The Cincinnati Observatory Center
3489 Observatory Place Cincinnati, Ohio 45208

(513) 321-5186  (513) 321-8771 fax









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