On June 16, the Astronomy Department hosted the Van Vleck Observatory Centennial Symposium: A Celebration of Astronomy at Wesleyan University. Wesleyan’s observatory has been celebrating its centennial during the 2015-16 academic year, with a series of events and an exhibition, “Under Connecticut Skies.”
The symposium was co-sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford (ASGH), and held in conjunction with StarConn.
The exhibition was spearheaded by Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, and Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history. At the meeting, they discussed the exhibition, which was developed by a team of faculty, students and staff using the observatory’s extensive collection of scientific instruments, teaching materials, photographs, drawings and correspondence to illustrate the changes in astronomical research and teaching over the past century. Located in Van Vleck’s library, the exhibition is semi-permanent and open to the public for viewing when the building is open.
In addition, University Archivist Leith Johnson created an exhibition in Olin Library titled, “A Stellar Education: Astronomy at Wesleyan, 1831-1916.” It is available for viewing through October.
The day-long event included guests speakers discussing topics in the full range of professional and amateur astronomy. Talks were given by many members of Wesleyan’s astronomy department and other departments, past and present.
The event concluded with a gala reception and re-dedication ceremony of the Van Vleck Observatory. Guests viewed the restored 20-inch refractor telescope.
Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, was honored for his contributions to the Astronomy Department. Herbst and Seth Redfield also discussed “Stellar Astronomy and the Perkin Telescope” during the conference.
Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, and her four-month-old son, Soren, attended the Van Vleck Observatory Centennial celebration.
The West End String Quartet provided music of the 1916 era.
Ellen Nerenberg, dean of the arts and humanities, the Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, and Lutz Huwel, professor of physics, were among the attendees who dressed as famous astronomers in period costume. All the costumes were designed by Cybele Moon, visiting assistant professor of theater. Nerenberg is dressed as Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and Huwel is dressed as George Ellery Hale, both notable astronomers who visited the observatory.
Ed Moran, professor and chair of astronomy, director of the Van Vleck Observatory, read a short speech re-dedicating the Van Vleck Observatory to its original mission of astronomical research, education and public outreach.
Debra Elmegreen, the Maria Mitchell Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College and a past president of the American Astronomical Society, brought greetings from the society and a letter of congratulations from the current president, Meg Urry of Yale University. She commended the staff, students and community partners of the observatory for 100 years of service to astronomy.
Gerald Daley, a member of Middletown’s Common Council, read a proclamation from the Mayor proclaiming June 16, 2016 as Van Vleck Observatory Day in Middletown.
Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, brewed Centenni-Ale for the occasion.
Guest Robert Factor and Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history, enjoyed the Centenni-Ale.
Guests visited the historical exhibit commemorating the observatory’s centennial in the building’s library.
Photographs on display in the exhibit included shots of employees of the renowned optical firm Alvan Clark and Sons installing lenses on the observatory’s 20-inch refracting telescope in July 1922.
Also on display is the observatory’s guestbook, which was kept from 1916 to 1942 and signed by many noteworthy astronomers from all over the globe.
The event concluded with a talk about restoring the Clark Telescope by Fred Orthlieb of Swarthmore, and a viewing of the night sky using the restored 20-inch Clark Refractor telescope. (Photos by Olivia Drake)