Steward Observatory

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Steward Observatory
Organization University of Arizona
Location Tucson, Arizona
Altitude 792 meters (2,598 ft)
Established 1916 (1916)
Steward Observatory
Mount Graham 10 m Submillimeter Telescope
1.8 m VATT
2 x 8.4 m Large Binocular Telescope
Catalina Station 1.6 m Kuiper Telescope
0.7 m Schmidt camera
Mount Lemmon 1.5 m NASA Telescope
1.0 m telescope
Kitt Peak ARO 12m Radio Telescope
2.3 m Bok Telescope
1.8 m Spacewatch telescope
0.9 m Spacewatch telescope
Mount Hopkins 6.5 m MMT

Steward Observatory is the research arm of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona (UA). Its offices is located on the UA campus in Tucson, Arizona (USA). Established in 1916, the first telescope and building were formally dedicated on April 23, 1923. It now operates, or is a partner in telescopes at five mountain-top locations in Arizona, one in New Mexico, and one in Chile. It has provided instruments for three different space telescopes and numerous terrestrial ones. Steward also has one of the few facilities in the world that can cast and figure the very large primary mirrors used in telescopes built in the past decade.


Steward Observatory owes its existence to the efforts of American astronomer and dendrochronologist Andrew Ellicott Douglass. In 1906, Douglass accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Physics and Geography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Almost immediately upon his arrival in Tucson, Douglass established astronomical research programs using an 8-inch refracting telescope on loan from the Harvard College Observatory and actively began to pursue funding to construct a large research-class telescope in Tucson. Over the next 10 years, all of Douglass’ efforts to secure funding from the University and the Arizona Territorial (and later State) Legislatures ended in failure. During this time period, Douglass served the University of Arizona as Head of the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Interim President, and finally Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences.[1]

Then on October 18, 1916, University President Rufus von KleinSmid announced that an anonymous donor had given the University $60,000 “…to be used to buy a telescope of huge size.” That donor was later revealed to be Mrs. Lavinia Steward of Oracle, Arizona. Mrs. Steward was a wealthy widow who had an interest in astronomy and a desire to memorialize her late husband, Mr. Henry Steward.[2] Douglass made plans to use the Steward gift to construct a 36-inch diameter Newtonian reflecting telescope. The Warner & Swayze Company of Cleveland, Ohio was contracted to build the telescope, but the United States entry into World War I delayed the contract since Warner & Swayze had war contracts that took priority. The situation was further delayed by the fact that up until this time, the expertise in large telescope mirror making was in Europe. The war made it impossible to contract with a European company. So Douglass had to find an American glass company that was willing to develop this expertise. After a couple of failed castings, the Spencer Lens Co. of Buffalo, New York ultimately produced a 36-inch mirror for the Steward Telescope.[1]

The telescope was finally installed in the observatory building in July 1922, and the Steward Observatory was officially dedicated on April 23, 1923. In his dedication address, Douglass recounted the trials and tribulations of establishing the observatory, then gave the following eloquent justification for the scientific endeavor:[3]

In concluding I wish to leave with you a more general view. This installation is to be devoted to scientific research. Scientific research is business foresight on a large scale. It is knowledge obtained before it is needed. Knowledge is power, but we cannot tell which fact in the domain of knowledge is the one which is going to give the power, and we therefore develop the idea of knowledge for its own sake, confident that some one fact or training will pay for all the effort. This I believe is the essence of education wherever such education is not strictly vocational. The student learns many facts and has much training. He can only dimly see which fact and which training will be of eminent use to him, but some special part of his education will take root in him and grow and pay for all of the effort which he and his friends have put into it. So it is with the research institutions. In this Observatory I sincerely hope and expect that the boundaries of human knowledge will be advanced along astronomical lines. Astronomy was the first science developed by our primitive ancestors thousands of years ago because it measured time. Performing that same function, it has played a vast part in human history, and today it is telling us facts, forever wonderful, about the size of our universe; perhaps tomorrow it will give us practical help in showing us how to predict climatic conditions in the future.


Steward Observatory manages three different observing locations in southern Arizona: Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO), Mount Lemmon Observatory, and Catalina Station on Mount Bigelow. It also operates telescopes at two additional important observatories: Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) and Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins. Steward is a partner in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III, which is located in New Mexico at Apache Point Observatory. Steward maintains a student observatory on Tumamoc Hill approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) west of the campus. The original observatory building in Tucson is used only for public outreach.

The Arizona Radio Observatory, a subsidiary of Steward Observatory, operates one telescope each at KPNO and MGIO.

Steward Observatory participates in three international projects. It is a full member in the twin Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory in northern Chile. It is also a member in two projects planned for same region: the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope, a next generation extremely large telescope. The Mirror Laboratory is fabricating and finishing the mirrors for both telescopes, and also made the two Magellan mirrors.

Research groups[edit]

Steward's Mirror Laboratory (SOML), located under the east side of Arizona Stadium, has pioneered new techniques of large mirror production, including spin-casting lightweight honeycomb mirrors in a rotating furnace, and stressed-lap polishing. The Mirror Laboratory completed the second mirror for the Large Binocular Telescope in September, 2005. The Mirror Lab is currently working on the 8.4 meter diameter primary/tertiary mirror for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and has started work on 2 of the 7 off-axis primary mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope.[4]

The Infrared Detector Laboratory built the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) instrument for the Hubble Space Telescope and the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) instrument for the Spitzer Space Telescope. For the James Webb Space Telescope, Steward built the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and helped build the Mid-IR Instrument (MIRI). Both instruments have been delivered to NASA; launch is expected in 2017 or 2018.

Other groups include the Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics (CAAO), the Imaging Technology Laboratory (ITL), the Steward Observatory Radio Astronomy Laboratory (SORAL), and the Astrochemistry/Spectroscopy Laboratory.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Webb, George (1983). Tree Rings and Telescopes. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0798-8. 
  2. ^ "Anonymous Friend Gives U.A. $60,000". Arizona Daily Star. Oct. 19, 1916. 
  3. ^ Douglass, Andrew E. "Historical Address upon the Dedication of Steward Observatory". Steward Observatory. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Mirror Castings, SOML, retrieved 2012-04-12 

External links[edit]