Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory
The observatory of the National Air and Space Museum was named for Phoebe Waterman Haas in recognition of a $6 million donation from the Thomas W. Haas Foundation, which established an endowment for the museum's Public Observatory Program. Thomas W. Haas is the son of Dorothy Haas and of F. Otto Haas, who was the son of Phoebe Haas and Otto Haas. The observatory opened in 2009 as part of the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy.
The Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory has a main telescope used during the nighttime, as well as a Sun Gun Telescope and other telescopes for observing the sun.
The observatory's main telescope is a 16-inch Boller & Chivens Cassegrain reflector, named the Cook Memorial Telescope in memory of Chester Sheldon Cook. Purchased in 1967 by the Harvard College Observatory, the telescope was used by generations of students at the Oak Ridge Observatory until it closed in 2005. The Cook Memorial Telescope is now on loan to the National Air and Space Museum for use in the observatory.
The observatory's 4-inch Sun Gun Telescope is used for viewing the photosphere of the sun in the visible spectrum. There are also other instruments for viewing the hydrogen-alpha (red) and calcium-K (purple) light emitted by the chromosphere.
The observatory is located on the National Air and Space Museum's east terrace and is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 3 P.M. and one night a month. It is closed during rainy weather. Visitors can use all the observatory's available telescopes with the help of the staff.
The woman for whom the observatory is named was an extraordinary figure of the early 20th century, a woman who loved astronomy and pursued it to a level reached by few women of her time - she was among the first women in the United States achieve a PhD in astronomy. Her degree was awarded by the University of California, Berkeley on May 14, 1913. At that time, women in astronomy worked as "computers", making calculations to support the work of male research astronomers.
Waterman first attended Vassar College, gaining undergraduate degrees in mathematics and astronomy. She obtained employment at the Mt. Wilson Observatory in California as a computer, classifying and reducing the spectra of stars and studying the rotation of the Sun. She became acquainted with several prominent astronomers of the day, and soon determined that she wanted to make her own observations and analyze the data herself. She enrolled in graduate school at UCB, and made observations at the Lick Observatory near San Jose. She was perhaps the first woman to operate a major telescope — the Lick's 36-inch refractor. Waterman studied the spectra of Class A stars; her dissertation was the first to be published by a woman at Lick. Upon completing her doctorate, she was on her way to work at the Argentine National Observatory at Córdoba when she met businessman Otto Haas. Not long after, they married, and she shifted from professional astronomer to wife and mother.