What are your hours?
There are two buildings on your campus. How old are they?
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 now 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.
Why is there such a cool, old observatory here in Cincinnati?
The Observatory was founded by Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel. In 1842 he started a group called the Cincinnati Astronomical Society which raised money to build the telescope and first building. Mitchel sold shares at $25 apiece and raised about $9,000 for the telescope. He traveled to Munich Germany to purchase it and it was shipped through New Orleans to Cincinnati.
The first observatory was on Mt. Adams where the Monastery is located today. That Observatory was there from 1843-1873. In 1873 the telescope moved to its new home away from the city pollution in Mt. Lookout. The main building was designed by Samuel Hannaford. An additional building and telescope were added in 1904.
Is that where Mt. Adams got its name?
Yes. Mitchel invited John Quincy Adams to dedicate the building there. Before his visit, the hill was called Mt. Ida. This was president Adams last public speech before his death.
Mt. Lookout is also named for the Observatory since we do a lot of looking out. So that’s two of Cincinnati’s seven hills are named because of us.
Is the Cincinnati Observatory famous for discovering anything?
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, computing the orbits of minor planets (asteroids and moons), and cataloging the positions of thousands of stars.
Were any comets discovered at the Observatory?
Unfortunately not. We 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 not discovered one, single comet. But the “cone room” is cool to visit in the smaller building.
How old are your telescopes?
We have two historic telescopes. One, which has been used since 1845, 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 refracting 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 refracting telescope which resides in our larger building.
How much does the telescope weigh?
The 1845 telescope, mount, and other accessories weigh over 2,000 pounds. Just the tube of the 1904 telescope weighs over 1,000 pounds. Add in the mount, finder scopes, and cast iron base to it and the big scope is several tons of metal.
Can anyone come see through the telescopes? Are you open to the public?
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 second and fourth week of the month and miscellaneous classes and viewings Sunday night. And if you have some free time during the day, you’re welcome to come see us. COVID-19 has limited these programs so reservations are required. Call us 513-321-5186 to find out what's coming up.
I have a telescope that I don't know how to use. Can you help?
Of course! We offer 1-on-1 consults with our experts who can show you how to get the most out of your scope. 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. Call us at 513-321-5186 to schedule a telescope consult.
If it's clear at night, what do you normally observe?
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.
What is the coolest thing to see through the telescopes?
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.