Yerkes Observatory: Director’s Hidden Spaces tour

Yerkes Observatory: Director’s Hidden Spaces tour

The Yerkes Observatory is credited as the place where the study of astrophysics began. George Ellery Hale, one of the pioneers of astrophysics, was the leader in the planning and constructing of the 40-inch refracting telescope there.

Sometimes, travel is local, or fairly close to home. Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin is about an hour away from where I live. We don’t always have to travel to faraway epic places to create interesting images.

Get there early

We registered for a behind-the-scenes tour and it was so worth it. But, before the tour started, we arrived early so we could wander around the property a bit first. This is always a good idea just in case you don’t have time after the tour to wander around on your own. This place is incredible inside and out. The history is also fascinating. The grounds are also beautiful and worth a return trip just to wander around.

Completed in 1897, the observatory has amazing sculptures and details, with interesting stories behind many of the sculptures and faces throughout the building.

Behind-the-scenes tour

The great thing about this tour is that you can access areas that are not included in a regular tour. As such, you can climb up into the domes and make your way back through storage areas filled with yet-undiscovered treasures. The observatory also holds a collection of over 170,000 photographic plates.

The amount of history stored in this observatory is mind-blowing. From their website:

“For nearly a century, a virtual who’s who of astronomy surveyed outer space through the Yerkes Great Refractor. Sherburne W. Burnham cataloged 13,665 star systems. Edward Barnard discovered the large dark clouds of the Milky Way. Optician Frank Ross introduced the wide-angle lens to astronomy. Edwin Hubble photographed the first evidence of the expansion of the universe. Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy, did her graduate work here, as did Carl Sagan.”

The telescope

The 40-inch diameter doublet lens refracting telescope is the largest refracted ever successfully used for astronomy. The whole floor around the telescope (75 feet in diameter) is an elevator that raises up so that you can access the telescope. What a ride!

To see and be able to photograph this historically significant telescope and place is quite an experience.

It just goes to show that if you do a bit of research you can likely find some interesting places to visit in your own area.

If you want to learn more about the Yerkes Observatory check out their website and I highly suggest going on a tour.

Tips for traveling locally

  • Research what interests you and see what offerings are nearby
  • Pay for the tours, they are almost always worth it
  • Grab a friend and make a day of it
  • If you are at one location, tell the story of that location
  • Always check with the location to find out what rules they may have regarding photography, tripods, etc.

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