Baby, if you’ve ever wondered,
Wondered whatever became of me,
I’m building telescopes in Cincinnati,
Cincinnati, um, Cool Weird Awesome

November 9th is not the best known anniversary in American astronomical history, but it’s one that’s for anyone who likes to learn about stars and planets but isn’t a scientist.

It was today in 1843 that Cincinnati dedicated an observatory that was open to the public, the first of its kind in the U.S., one called the “birthplace of American astronomy.”


It started with a professor, Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel of Cincinnati College.

The former military instructor had become a very popular speaker on the cosmos, at a time when the US really only had a handful of telescopes, and those were small ones, not like the big observatories in Europe.

Mitchel decided Cincinnati should have one, and so he used his popularity to crowdfund a telescope.

He went door to door asking for $25 contributions to the Cincinnati Astronomical Society, at a time when $25 was a lot of money.

In a month and a half, he had almost $7500, which he used to buy an 11 inch telescope from Munich.

Mitchel got a donation of several acres of land on what was then called Mount Ida.

For the dedication ceremony, he got former U.S. President John Quincy Adams, who loved astronomy and called observatories “lighthouses of the sky.”

Adams laid the cornerstone and gave what is believed to be his last public speech.

Mount Ida was renamed Mount Adams.

The observatory was open for business in April 1845, and because it was open to the public, there were times when Mitchel would sometimes work on research and someone would drop by and ask to see the telescope.

Though they moved to a different location in the 1870s, the observatory and the telescope remain open to the public.

The historic telescope is nearby in a space called the Mitchel Building.

And if you’re using it, you can even try to spot (1373) Cincinnati = 1935 QN.

That’s an asteroid named for the historic Cincinnati Observatory.


This month is full of cool happenings worth seeing from an observatory.

According to a roundup of the latest space happenings, Mercury will be rising, Venus and the moon are hanging out; Saturn, Jupiter and the moon are all hanging out; we’ve got not one but two meteor showers and a small lunar eclipse.

Not exactly a quiet month up there!

How Cincinnati became the ‘Birthplace of American Astronomy’ (Cincinnati Enquirer)

See Meteor Showers, a Lunar Eclipse & Bright Planets Throughout November (Thrillist)

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Cincinnati Observatory photo by 5chw4r7z via Flickr/Creative Commons