Although I’m not currently on campus to confirm this breaking news, the Van Vleck Observatory might look a little different these days. The almost 100 year-old 20-inch refractor telescope is getting computerized, so that it will be much easier to use. The telescope itself was built in 1916, but it was installed in 1920 (there was a bit of a delay because the glass lens was ordered from Germany and so World War I made speedy delivery impossible). I suppose it was worth the wait because, according to the Astronomy Department, “the glass quality was found to be very high across the whole disk, allowing a 20 inch aperture rather than the 18.5 inches that had been ordered.” The telescope was used to help Walter Scott Houston research his lovely column that ran in the 1950s, “Deep-Sky Wonders.”
The good news for younger students is that once the project is completed in 2016, the observatory will be open for viewing on every clear night, not just twice a month. You can stay up-to-date with the restoration process by following the Astronomy Department’s twitter feed.