Milwaukee Astronomical Society

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Milwaukee Astronomical Society
MAS Logo 425.jpg
Formation1932 (1932)
Legal statusnon-profit Incorporated association
Coordinates42°58′07.57″N 88°08′53.89″W / 42.9687694°N 88.1483028°W / 42.9687694; -88.1483028
PublicationFocal Point

The Milwaukee Astronomical Society (MAS) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization serving amateur astronomers in the greater Milwaukee area since 1932, making it one of the oldest continuously running astronomy clubs in the nation. The MAS operates an observatory, one of the largest amateur club observatories in the world. The current membership is 175.[1]


The MAS was formed in 1932 with an ad taken out in The Milwaukee Journal of September 18 announcing an organizational meeting the following Wednesday at the home of Luverne Armfield.[2] As a result of that meeting, the Milwaukee Astronomical Society was formed with 18 charter members.[3] The club had regular observing sessions in Armfield's backyard, where there was an emphasis on scientific observation programs, especially variable stars, meteors, and lunar occultations.[4] Notable early members were Edward A. Halbach, Walter Scott Houston, and William Albrecht. Growth would continue month by month and by the end of 1933, there would be 130 members.[5]

In January 1934 a member, M.J.W. Phillips offered an acre of land for the establishment of an observatory outside Milwaukee in the Town of New Berlin. The land bordered a quiet road which would one day be named Observatory Road. The next month, the AAVSO offered the MAS a 13-inch plate glass mirror which they could use as long as the club pursued the study of variable stars. A telescope for that mirror was completed in October, 1934 and was installed in Armfield's backyard since the remote observatory was not yet established.[6]

In 1935, Luverne Armfield along with J. Wesley Simpson, Director of the Missouri-Southern Illinois Observers (MSIO), formed a national organization, the American Amateur Astronomers Association (AAAA). It was a confederation of local societies modeled after the British Astronomical Association with its own publication, Amateur Astronomy (AA). Initial members were the MAS, MSIO, and the Madison Astronomical Society. The individual clubs consolidated their own newsletters into AA and traded information on scientific observing programs and eventually observatories and telescope making. It grew to 15 societies from throughout the United States, but folded in late 1938 when the publication of AA stopped.[7]

Development of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society Observatory began in 1936 with the installation of an 8-inch, f/15 reflector in a roll-away shed. In 1937, construction began on a domed observatory.[8] It was completed in March 1938 and the 13-inch telescope was installed. The observatory was formally dedicated in June.[9][10]

With the donation of a 12.5" f/7.4 Newtonian reflector by member Ralph Buckstaff, in 1949 another domed observatory was constructed to house that instrument.[11] A Quonset Hut was obtained through the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1955 which has served as the meeting/lecture hall ever since. In 1963 two additional acres of adjacent land were added. The following year the Armfield building was extended for the addition of 2 restrooms and a darkroom.[12]

Under the directorship of Edward Halbach, the MAS joined Operation Moonwatch (aka Project Moonwatch) as another way for the club to make useful scientific contributions. The highlight of the program came in the early morning of September 5, 1962, when members Gale Highsmith, Leonard Schaefer, and Raymond Zit observed the re-entry of Sputnik 4, which allowed the recovery of some of the pieces which fell in and around Manitowoc, Wisconsin.[13][14]

One of 12 "Portascopes" built by the MAS

In 1965 the MAS started a program of lunar grazing occultations. Observers were stationed along a 2-mile North-South line at 10th of a mile intervals for the timings. Because of largely inadequate telescopic equipment, from 1970–1974, the MAS designed and built 12 "portascopes," which were 10 inch f/5.6 reflectors on a fixed fork mount. Besides the grazes, they were used for general use, especially during the Open House nights. They also became the main instrumentation for the eclipsing binary program.[15] The design won an award from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.[16]

In 1980, under the direction of Gerry Samolyk, construction began for another domed observatory to house a 26-inch reflector with a promise that a 22-foot dome would be donated by Delco. When that fell thru, the MAS was forced to build the dome which was done in place.[17]


The Milwaukee Astronomical Society Observatory comprises 3.1 acres at 18850 W. Observatory Rd, in New Berlin, WI. There are currently 9 observatories on the site. 4 are domed, 4 are roll-off roof, and 1 flip-top.[18] Viewing and imaging celestial objects is a major focus.[19]

The Milwaukee Astronomical Society Observatory grounds taken on November 19, 2013.


Membership in the MAS is open to anyone interested in astronomy without any age restrictions. Membership types are Family, Individual, and Student (under the age of 18).[20]


Meetings are held at the MAS Observatory in the Quonset Meeting Hall. The Board of Directors meets monthly, while membership meetings run from September thru May. There is a summer picnic held at the observatory and a December Christmas party, both for members only.[21]


The MAS holds a series of Open House nights at their observatory for the general public during the late Spring until early Fall.[22][23]


The MAS publishes a monthly newsletter called the Focal Point.[24]

Associated Organizations[edit]

The MAS is affiliated with the Astronomical League[25] and the Night Sky Network.[26][1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "MAS About". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  2. ^ The Milwaukee Journal. Sept. 18, 1932. p. 5.
  3. ^ Zit, Raymond. "Amateur Astronomy in Milwaukee". Telescope Making. Winter 1978: 28–29.
  4. ^ Williams, Thomas (May 2000). Getting Organized: A History of Amateur Astronomy in the United States. Rice University. p. 194.
  5. ^ "MAS History 1932–1933". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  6. ^ "MAS History 1934–1935". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  7. ^ Taibi, Richard (2017). Charles Olivier and the Rise of Meteor Science. Springer. pp. 371–374. ISBN 978-3-319-44517-5.
  8. ^ Butcher, Clifford L. "Home Made Telescopes Open the Heavens to Amateurs". The Sky. II, No. VIII (June 1938): 12–13.
  9. ^ "MAS History 1938–1946". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  10. ^ Kliman, Carolyn. "Amateur Astronomy in Milwaukee". Sky and Telescope. XXIII (April 1962): 206.
  11. ^ "MAS History 1947–1951". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  12. ^ "MAS History 1952–1963". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  13. ^ Vanderburgh, R.C. (1962). "Sputnik IV Re-entry: The Role of Moonwatch". SAO (Special Report #109): 9–13.
  14. ^ McCray, W. Patrick (2008). Keep Watching the Skies: The Story of Operation Moonwatch & the Dawn of the Space Age. Princeton University Press. pp. 86–87, 208–209.
  15. ^ "MAS History 1964–1977". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  16. ^ Fidler, M (June 29, 1974). "Minutes of the Annual Meeting". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 68: 214–218. Bibcode:1974JRASC..68..214F.
  17. ^ "MAS History 1980–1989". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  18. ^ "MAS Observatories". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  19. ^ Williams, Justin. "Justin spends his morning at the Milwaukee Astronomical Society Observatory".
  20. ^ "MAS Membership". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  21. ^ "MAS Meetings" (PDF). Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  22. ^ "MAS Open House". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  23. ^ Wahlers, Roberta. "Milwaukee Astronomical Society offers the moon and the stars". Milwaukee Magazine. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  24. ^ "MAS Focal Point". Milwaukee Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Astronomy clubs and societies affiliated with the Astronomical League". Astronomical League.
  26. ^ "Milwaukee Astronomical Society". Night Sky Network.

External links[edit]