Lookback Time: The Detroit Observatory


In Seeing In The Dark, author Timothy Ferris writes, "Peering far into space means looking deep into time gone by. This phenomenon, known as 'lookback time,' makes historians of stargazers." Historians and stargazers alike can enjoy a look back in time to 1854 by visiting the Detroit Observatory at 1398 E. Ann St. In its day, the Observatory housed the first large telescope constructed in the United States, for years the third largest refractor in the world. It was the training ground for many 19th century astronomers, saw the discovery of 21 asteroids and 2 comets, and remains the most important physical legacy of the University's early scientific preeminence. "I cannot speak of the Observatory without emotion," said former UM president Henry Tappan. "No one will deny that it was a creation of my own." (Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, MI)

Although the dome is currently not operational, rendering the telescope unusable, the Observatory was fully restored in 1998 and the astronomical instruments remain intact and operational. Read more about the Observatory's legacy and watch for upcoming open houses in conjunction with UM's winter theme semester.


The Observatory is refurbishing the telescopes and making repairs to the dome so that it can be used. Exciting!

Also, for more information about the history of the Observatory, try Patricia Whitesell's A Creation of His Own: Tappan's Detroit Observatory.