Sights ~ Ladd Observatory ~ Providence

Ladd Observatory
210 Doyle Ave.
Providence, Rhode Island
(401) 863-2323

Ladd Observatory by robtm2010
Ladd Observatory by robtm2010

Last October, when my friend from Chicago was visiting, we checked out the Ladd Observatory in Providence. The nice thing about out of town guests is going places you've always been meaning to go. Not as terrific is cramming all that tourism into a short time span and then having to remember it five months later when you sit down to write about your experience.

The observatory opened in 1871, under the directorship of Prof. Winslow Upton. They started making regular transit observations and timekeeping in 1893. The Observatory houses a 12" refracting telescope, transit telescopes, precision pendulum clocks, chronometers and more.

The observatory is open on Tuesday nights, weather permitting, for touring and sky viewing. It was pretty overcast when my friend and I went, but we were able to view a twin star through a small but powerful telescope set up on the deck.  The big gun - "a 12-inch (30 cm) refractor with a lens made by John Brashear following the design of Charles S. Hastings" (I don't know what that means, but it sounded impressive on Wikipedia) - wasn't in use. In fact, the observatory isn't really used for modern professional observations, but is available for students who want to kick it old school, and gain a sense of the history of their field.

main telescope
main telescope by e_pics
Another tidbit of interest. The hill on which the observatory sits - and observatories commonly sit on hills - was once called Tin-top Hill, because it was a dumping ground for tin cans. Their reflection could be seen at a distance.  Makes you glad they cleaned it up.

Also on the site is a small metal surveyor's marker. It denotes a point where the latitude and longitude are known with a "high degree of precision," and was set in 1968. Use of the hill as a surveying point went on long before that.


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