Lamont-Hussey Observatory Web Archives
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History and archive records available on this website:
The name of the Observatory refers to W.J. Hussey and a good friend of his,
R.P. Lamont. Hussey and Lamont were University students in engineering in
Michigan, in the late 1880's. They were ambitious, Hussey wanted to be a great
and well-known astronomer, Lamont wanted to be a rich and respected businessman.
There existed a strong friendship between them and it was maintained even
after they left university.
Hussey did become a great astronomer and did research at the Lick Observatory in California, where he studied variable stars. His results meant that he was awarded the Lalande Gold Medal of the Paris Academy of Science.
Mr. Lamont did become a wealthy businessman and decided in 1909 to provide funds for the construction of an observatory in the Southern Hemisphere, so Hussey could continue his research in the field of double stars. By this time, Hussey was a Professor in Astronomy at the University of Michigan.
Plans for a Southern Hemisphere Observatory
In the 1910's, a lot of research still needed to be done on the mapping and cataloguing of double stars in the southern hemisphere. Prof. W.J. Hussey from the University of Michigan, who would have been the first director of the Observatory were it not for his untimely death, was well known for his work in double star research in the northern hemisphere. With funds received from a very good friend of his, Mr. R.P. Lamont, they decided to build an observatory in the southern hemisphere for Hussey to continue his research in the field of double stars.
Plans for the observatory and a 24 inch refractor began as early as 1910. World War I intervened, and not till after the war was a 27 inch lens finally obtained.
The First Expedition
The first expedition to South Africa was slated for October 1926 and the telescope was also sent directly to South Africa then. The party consisted of Hussey and his wife, Rossiter and his wife and their two children. They traveled via London. Just prior to there departure, Hussey had an attack of pleurisy (inflammation of the lungs). One night in London during a meal with friends he suddenly sank into his chair and died instantly without any pain.
It meant the end of a wonderful dream for him, but Rossiter decided he would continue with that dream and went to South Africa. He decided on Naval Hill in Bloemfontein (a game reserve) as the location for the construction of the building. The municipality met the project with open arms and made generous capital service contributions.
Construction of the Building and Dome
Construction of the Observatory commenced in 1927. In 1928 the telescope and dome were installed and research began on 11 May of that year. The first director was Dr. R.A. Rossiter (also from the University of Michigan). He started an 8 year research project in the mapping of double stars.
The Observatory was opened by the mayor on 28 April 1928 and research began shortly after.
Research at the Observatory
The first research team consisted of Dr. Rossiter, Mr. H.F. Donner and Mr.
M.K. Jessup, all from the University of Michigan. The first double star project
had a planned time span of 8 years and over 5 000 double stars were discovered
by 1937. By 1947, a total of 7 200 double stars have been found and 25 000
measurements of double stars had been made. Rossiter remained director until
1952. In 1956 noted astronomer Earl. C. Slipher and an international team
visited the Observatory to take photos of Mars The Observatory was reopened
for double star observations in 1962 by its last director, Frank Holden.
Holden made repeated observations of most of the double stars previously
discovered at the Observatory in order to see which ones moved.
He was director until 1971 when all observations ended. In 1974 the observatory closed and in 1975, the telescope's optics were removed and sent back to Michigan, where it is in safe keeping to this day.
The Observatory Theatre
The University of Michigan gave the building to PACOFS (1976) (who used it as a theatre) and the telescope fell into the hands of the Municipality. The current caretaker takes good care of the building and is still maintaining it as a unique theatre in SA. The telescope met a more unfortunate fate, though it is still salvageable. It will never be used for astronomical purposes again, but is currently secured in the Fire Station Museum in Erlichpark (the tube, counterweight and mounting).
Current research efforts
Much research has been done on the history of the Lamont-Hussey
Observatory. Dr. Patrick Seitzer of the University of Michigan has supplied
the South African researchers with a large amount of information. Also part
of the research team is Mr. Willie Koorts from SAAO in Cape Town and the members
belonging to the History group of ASSA Bloemfontein in the Free State and
Friends of Lamont-Hussey. Wendy Stone from the University of the Free State
has done her thesis on the observatory's past and present profile. Through
all the research though, there are still loose ends and even unanswered questions
waiting to be unveiled...
This website: http://www.assabfn.co.za/lamont_hussey