Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chicago, Illinois: Yerkes Observatories (Observatories around the World) Yerkes Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the University of Chicago in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The observatory, which calls itself "the birthplace of modern astrophysics," was founded in 1897 by George Ellery Hale and financed by Charles T. Yerkes. It represented a shift in the thinking about observatories, from their being mere housing for telescopes and observers, to the modern concept of observation equipment integrated with laboratory space for physics and chemistry.

The Observatory has the largest refracting telescope successfully used for astronomy and has a collection of over 100,000 photographic plates. The present (2010) director of the observatory is Dr. Kyle M. Cudworth.

Yerkes Observatory is most famous for its 102 cm (40 inch) refracting telescope built by the master optician Alvan Clark. This is the largest refracting telescope used for scientific research (a larger demonstration refractor, the Great Paris Exhibition Telescope of 1900, was exhibited at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900). The 40-inch telescope was exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago before being installed in the observatory.

In addition to the Yerkes refractor, the observatory also houses 102 cm (40 inch, referred to as the "41 inch" to prevent confusion) and 61 cm (24 inch) reflecting telescopes. Several smaller telescopes are used for educational outreach purposes.

Current Research
Present research activity includes work on the interstellar medium, globular cluster formation, infrared astronomy, and near-Earth objects. Additionally, the University of Chicago maintains an engineering center in the observatory, dedicated to making and maintaining scientific instruments. As of 2011, the engineers are working on the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera (HAWC), which will be an integral part of Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Research is also done utilizing Yerkes' collection of over 150,000 archival photographic plates that date back to the 1890's.

Development and preservation plans In March 2005, the University of Chicago announced plans to sell the observatory and its land on the shore of Geneva Lake. Initial reports had two purchasers interested, Mirbeau, an east coast developer who wanted to build luxury homes, and Aurora University, which has a campus straddling the Williams Bay property.

The Geneva Lake Conservancy, a regional conservation and land trust organization, took the position that it was critical to save the historic Yerkes Observatory structures and telescopes for education and research, as well as to conserve the rare undeveloped, wooded lakefront and deep forest sections of the 77-acre (310,000 m2) site.

On June 7, 2006, the University announced it would sell the facility to Mirbeau for US$8 million with stipulations to preserve the observatory, the surrounding 30 acres (120,000 m2), and the entire shoreline of the site. Under the Mirbeau plan, a 100-room resort with a large spa operation and attendant parking and support facilities was to be located on the 9-acre (36,000 m2) virgin wooded Yerkes land on the lakeshore -- the last such undeveloped, natural site on Geneva Lake's 21-mile (34 km) shoreline.

About seventy homes were to be developed on the upper Yerkes property, surrounding the historic observatory. These grounds were designed more than 100 years ago by John Olmsted, the brother of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York's Central Park.

In view of the public controversy surrounding the development proposals, the university suspended these plans in January 2007. The university's department of astronomy and astrophysics then formed a study group, including representatives from the faculty and observatory and a wide range of other involved parties, to plan for the operation of a regional center for science education at the observatory. The study group began its work in February 2007 and its final report was issued November 30, 2007. Ultimately, Williams Bay's refusal to change the zoning from education to residential caused Mirbeau to abandon its development plans.

Popular culture
Yerkes Observatory is the setting for about seven minutes of the 1996 movie Chain Reaction. One of the principal characters, Maggie McDermott, is first seen looking through the big refractor. The movie features a gunfight on the roof of Yerkes Observatory and an airboat chase across frozen Geneva Lake.

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