The Yerkes Observatory was founded on Geneva Lake in the year 1897 in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The observatory is a part of the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and until the middle of the 1960’s, was the home of all of the activities of the Department. Today, the park-like, 77-acre site located in southeastern Wisconsin offers laboratory space, as well as access to different telescopes for education and research.
The Yerkes Observatory resides within a unique niche in the scientific and the educational community. It serves as a bridge for many significant perspectives in informal and formal education. The history of astrophysics and astronomy at the observatory acts as a good foundation for the introduction of all the topics that are important in current research, along with the observational astronomy practice.
A massive range of learning opportunities exist. Due to the historical context of the Yerkes Observatory, the world-wide communities of student and professional astronomy educators and astronomers are draw to this observatory. These people learn from each other, create programs, and build relationships, resulting in learning opportunities and enriched experiences for the diverse, young members of society.
Visitors can join a public tour of the Yerkes Observatory any Saturday during the entire year. The University of Chicago’s observatory is open every Saturday to the public, with the exception of Christmas or New Year’s Day. The entertaining, engaging, and educational tour of the observatory offers an interesting program that covers the history, astronomical research, and architectural detail of the observatory. Visitors on the tour also get to see inside the ninety-foot dome and view the forty-inch refractor inside. This refractor still remains as the world’s largest lens-type telescope.
The inside of the Yerkes Observatory’s ninety-foot dome isn’t temperature controlled, so visitors are advised to dress for the tour as they would for an outdoor activity the day of their visit. After the tour, guests are welcome to look around the gift shop, where visitors can find postcards, photographs from the archives of the observatory, apparel, books, rocks, meteorites, jewelry, items for children, and several other unique, beautiful, and unusual items that can only be found at the Yerkes Observatory. Before the tour, guests can take a look at the timeline display situated within the main floor that describes the construction of the observatory and its early history. It’s also decorated with numerous photos from the 1890’s from the observatory’s archives. Visitors can also explore displays about the galaxies, the death of stars, and nebulae.
The Yerkes Observatory also consists of a museum that is maintained and developed by a number of talented and hardworking volunteers interested in the preservation of local history. Personal effects and artifacts on display in the observatory’s museum provide insight into the lives of several of the most famous astronomers of the Yerkes Observatory, people who have profoundly affected both the scientific community and the character and residents of Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The museum is only open during the hours of the public tours on Saturdays.
373 West Geneva Street, Williams Bay, Wisconsin, Phone: 262-248-6060