by Mariah Justice, age 17
“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another,” said Greek philosopher Plato. With the renaming event on September 7 for the Bell Burnell Observatory— previously the Oscar Mayer Observatory—Madison has a new facility for cultivating the exploration of astronomy.
The history of the Bell Burnell Observatory dates back to 1880, when the director of the Washburn Observatory, located on University of Wisconsin-Madison's (UW) campus, felt there was too much student traffic for the University to only have one observatory. This notion spurred him to personally fund the construction of the student observatory, which was then called the Student Observatory. However, as Madison grew, light pollution obstructed both the Student and Washburn observatories, rendering the facilities obsolete.
In 1959, the UW offered to gift the Student Observatory to the Madison Astronomical Society (MAS) on the condition that MAS was able to finance a move to a different site. A year later, the observatory was officially relocated to its current location on the Promega Campus, and renamed the Oscar Mayer Observatory after the astronomer who funded its move. The observatory was in use for over two decades until light pollution resulting from Madison’s growth once again caused it to be inactive. [Read More]