Washburn Observatory

Tourists crowd in the interior of the Washburn Observatory dome that shows a sliver of sky through the open aperture

Jeff Miller

Stargazers take in a nighttime view using the observatory’s vintage telescope. Washburn hosts regular public observing sessions and posts its schedule on Twitter.

Historical illustration of the Washburn Observatory

UW Archives S12276

Built in 1881, the observatory was a gift to the UW from former Wisconsin Governor Cadwallader Washburn, who directed that the 15.6-inch telescope lens be at least equal in size to a rival instrument at Harvard.

Interior of the lens tube at the Washburn Observatory

Jeff Miller

The telescope’s rusty tube in 2012: its lenses were removed for the first time to clear out dust and debris. “It’s probably working better now than it did in the 19th century,” says Jim Lattis, director of UW Space Place.

Exterior of the Washburn Observatory

Bryce Richter

The dome was refurbished in the 1990s; the rest of the building was restored and updated in 2009. Washburn overlooks Lake Mendota and sits atop Observatory Hill, where students like to sled on campus dining hall trays.


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