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A side view of the shoebox-shaped Oakley Observatory, which sits high on concrete and iron pillars with a long staircase leading to the observatory area.

Our History

With the start of the space race came a greater interest in observing the nighttime sky. From humble beginnings in the 1960s, the Oakley Observatory has grown into an outstanding multidisciplinary research facility on campus.

Astronomy at Rose-Hulman

Launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite in 1957 guided people’s eyes toward the nighttime sky. Within a short time, many satellites were in earth’s orbit and the U.S. space agency was working with amateurs to monitor the objects visually.

These Moonwatch observers used small telescopes to monitor satellites. An active and successful Moonwatch club emerged in Terre Haute operated by the Terre Haute Astronomical Society. The group operated out of a garage at Allis-Chalmers, a local manufacturing company, for its first three years. In 1960, the group approached Rose Polytechnic Institute about hosting the Moonwatch program.

Moonwatch

The Terre Haute astronomical Society Moonwatch station at Allis-Chalmers circa 1959.

 

The Rose Poly Board of Managers responded positively to the request and, thanks to a large gift from the Estate of Lynn Reeder, a 1915 civil engineering alumnus, soon had the money needed to build what would become the Lynn H. Reeder laboratory and observatory. The facility was on the west side of campus and operated until its demolition in 2000.

Reeder Lab

The Reeder Lab and the observatory as they appeared from about 1973 until they were demolished in April of 2000.

A 1988 campus master plan called for the elimination of the Reeder Lab. However, thanks to the efforts of Professor Richard Ditteon, the Student Government Association, generous alumni and others, astronomy gained in popularity and strength at Rose-Hulman in the 1990s. Improved equipment made doing research much easier and soon it was hoped a new location for the observatory could be found—far from the lights of new residence halls being constructed on the west side of campus.

Fecker Telescope

A Fecker telescope in use at the Reeder Lab and Observatory. Photo from the 1978 Modulus.

  • A generous gift of $500,000 from the Oakley Foundation made the Oakley Observatory possible. Ground was broken for the new facility in 1999 far from the campus lights. Near the observatory is a new Lynn Reeder lab, which provides classroom space, a computer lab, kitchen and restroom.
  • Rose-Hulman is proud of the important research work taking place in the Oakley Observatory. Many previously unidentified asteroids have been documented from its telescopes. We are also pleased to host star parties for the local community and local K-12 students. 
  • For a more detailed history by Professor Richard Ditteon, please click here.
Quote

ÔÇťAstronomy? Impossible to understand and madness to investigate.

- Sophocles, c. 420 BCE

Oakley Extras!

Drawing of a telescope and a shooting star.

Check out our Oakley Observatory Clear Sky Chart!

For a current astronomer's forecast, follow the link below. This chart shows when it will be cloudy or clear for up to two days. This is important information if you're hoping to look through a telescope!

A directional compass showing North, East, South, and West.

Oakley Basics

  • IAU Observatory Code: 916
  • Latitude: 39° 29° 2° North
  • Longitude: 87° 18° 59° West
  • Elevation: 178 m
Drawing of the front view of a camera lens.

Oakley Webcam

We have a live web camera feed from inside the Oakley Observatory, which can be viewed by entering the login name of "public" and the password "Observatory" (case sensitive).