Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

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Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Center for Astrophysics at Harvard.jpg
The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) has been joined with the CfA since 1973.
PurposeResearch in astronomy, astrophysics, Earth, and space sciences
Headquarters60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Lisa Kewley

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a research institute of the Smithsonian Institution, concentrating on astrophysical studies including galactic and extragalactic astronomy, cosmology, solar, earth and planetary sciences, theory and instrumentation, using observations at wavelengths from the highest energy gamma rays to the radio, along with gravitational waves.  Established in Washington, D.C., in 1890, the SAO moved its headquarters in 1955 to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where its research is a collaboration with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) and the Harvard University Department of Astronomy. In 1973, the Smithsonian and Harvard formalized the collaboration as the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) under a single Director.



Samuel Pierpont Langley, the third Secretary of the Smithsonian, founded the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory on the south yard of the Smithsonian Castle (on the U.S. National Mall) on March 1,1890. The Astrophysical Observatory's initial, primary purpose was to "record the amount and character of the Sun's heat [1] ". Charles Greeley Abbot was named SAO's first director, and the observatory operated solar telescopes to take daily measurements of the Sun's intensity in different regions of the optical electromagnetic spectrum. In doing so, the observatory enabled Abbot to make critical refinements to the Solar constant, as well as to serendipitously discover Solar variability. It is likely that SAO's early history as a solar observatory was part of the inspiration behind the Smithsonian's "sunburst" logo, designed in 1965 by Crimilda Pontes. [2]

In 1955, the scientific headquarters of SAO moved from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge, Massachusetts to affiliate with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO). [1] Fred Lawrence Whipple, then the chairman of the Harvard Astronomy Department, was named the new director of SAO. The collaborative relationship between SAO and HCO therefore predates the official creation of the CfA by 18 years. SAO's move to Harvard's campus also resulted in a rapid expansion of its research program. Following the launch of Sputnik (the world's first human-made satellite) in 1957, SAO accepted a national challenge [3] to create a worldwide satellite-tracking network, collaborating with the United States Air Force on Project Space Track. [4]

With the creation of NASA the following year and throughout the space race, SAO led major efforts in the development of orbiting observatories and large ground-based telescopes, laboratory and theoretical astrophysics, as well as the application of computers to astrophysical problems.

SAO DirectorYears as Director
Samuel Pierpont Langley 1890–1906
Charles Greeley Abbot 1906-1942
Loyal Blaine Aldrich 1942-1955
Fred Lawrence Whipple 1955-1973
George B. Field 1973-1982
Irwin I. Shapiro 1982-2004
Charles R. Alcock 2004-present
Lisa Kewley 2004-present

Remote stations

SAO has operated a number of remote stations over the years. [5] [6]

StationTypeLatitudeLongitudeEl. (m)OpenedClosedCoordinates
Mount Wilson, California Solar34º13'N118º56'W173719081920 34°13′N118°56′W / 34.217°N 118.933°W / 34.217; -118.933
Hump Mountain, North Carolina Solar36º8'N82º0'W150019171918 36°8′N82°00′W / 36.133°N 82.000°W / 36.133; -82.000
Calama, Chile Solar22º28'S68º56'W225019181920 22°28′S68°56′W / 22.467°S 68.933°W / -22.467; -68.933
Mount Montezuma, ChileSolar22º40'S68º56'W27111920 ? 22°40′S68°56′W / 22.667°S 68.933°W / -22.667; -68.933
Mount Harquahala, Arizona Solar33º48'N113º20'W172119201925 33°48′N113°20′W / 33.800°N 113.333°W / 33.800; -113.333
Table Mountain, California Solar34º22'N117º41'W228619251962 34°22′N117°41′W / 34.367°N 117.683°W / 34.367; -117.683
Mount Brukkaros, Namibia Solar25º52'S17º48'E158619261931 25°52′S17°48′E / 25.867°S 17.800°E / -25.867; 17.800
Mount Saint Catherine, Egypt Solar28º31'N33º56'E259119341937 28°31′N33°56′E / 28.517°N 33.933°E / 28.517; 33.933
Burro Mountain, New Mexico Solar32º40'N108º33'W244019381946 32°40′N108°33′W / 32.667°N 108.550°W / 32.667; -108.550
Organ Pass, New Mexico Space Track32º25'N253º27'E 32°25′N106°33′W / 32.417°N 106.550°W / 32.417; -106.550
Parnamirim, Brazil Space Track05º55'S35º09'W39019661976 05°55′S35°09′W / 5.917°S 35.150°W / -5.917; -35.150
Olifantsfontein, South AfricaSpace Track25º58'S28º15'E 25°58′S28°15′E / 25.967°S 28.250°E / -25.967; 28.250
Woomera, Australia Space Track31º06'S136º46'E 31°06′S136°46′E / 31.100°S 136.767°E / -31.100; 136.767
Cadiz, Spain Space Track36º28'N353º48'E 36°28′N6°12′W / 36.467°N 6.200°W / 36.467; -6.200
Shiraz, Iran Space Track29º38'N52º31'E 29°38′N52°31′E / 29.633°N 52.517°E / 29.633; 52.517
Curaçao, Netherlands West Indies Space Track12º05'N291º10'E 12°05′N68°50′W / 12.083°N 68.833°W / 12.083; -68.833
Jupiter, Florida Space Track27º01'N279º53'E 27°01′N80°07′W / 27.017°N 80.117°W / 27.017; -80.117
Haleakala, Hawaii Space Track20º43'N203º45'E 20°43′N156°15′W / 20.717°N 156.250°W / 20.717; -156.250
Villa Dolores, Argentina Space Track31º57'S294º54'E 31°57′S65°06′W / 31.950°S 65.100°W / -31.950; -65.100
Mitaka, Japan Space Track
Nani Tal, India Space Track
Arequipa, Peru Solar,
Space Track
Oak Ridge Observatory

SAO Today

The current director of the SAO is Lisa Kewley (2022 to present). There are currently about 170 research staff working at the SAO, including affiliated research staff. In addition, the SAO has about 120 postdoctoral researchers/fellows working in five competitive, associated fellowship programs: CfA, Clay, SMA, ITAMP, and Leon Van Speybroeck, or in support of a contract or grant. (Additional postdocs do research via Harvard fellowship programs or national/international fellowship awards); about 40% of the postdoctoral community are women and about 12% are from minority populations. SAO scientists can supervise Harvard Ph.D students, and in addition they typically supervise about 30 graduate students from other institutions who are pursuing Ph.D. theses at the SAO. About thirty undergraduate students intern at the SAO each year. All together there are about 950 staff (including administrative and management department employees) working at the Center.

The first image of the photon ring of a black hole (M87*), captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. SAO plays a central role in the project. Black hole - Messier 87 crop max res.jpg
The first image of the photon ring of a black hole (M87*), captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. SAO plays a central role in the project.



See also

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  1. 1 2 DeVorkin, David H. (2018). Fred Whipple's Empire: The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, 1955-1973. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.
  2. Anonymous (2020-03-24). "Crimilda Pontes: The Original Designer of the Smithsonian Sunburst". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  3. Spiller, James (2015). "Rising to the Sputnik Challenge". In Spiller, James (ed.). Frontiers for the American Century. Frontiers for the American Century: Outer Space, Antarctica, and Cold War Nationalism. Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Palgrave Macmillan US. pp. 21–64. doi:10.1057/9781137507877_2. ISBN   978-1-137-50787-7.
  4. Sturdevant, Rick W. (Winter 2008). "From Satellite Tracking to Space Situational Awareness: The USAF and Space Surveillance: 1957 to 2007" (PDF). Air Power History. U.S. Air Force Historical Society. Retrieved 2021-06-23.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
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  6. Roosen, Robert G.; Angione, Ronald J. (1977). "Variations in Atmospheric Water Vapor: Baseline Results from Smithsonian Observations". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 89: 814. Bibcode:1977PASP...89..814R. doi: 10.1086/130233 .
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  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "SAO Directors: 1834 - Present". Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Retrieved 2015-09-03.
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  10. "Lisa Kewley Named Director of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian". 2022-03-14. Retrieved 2022-08-16.

Coordinates: 42°22′53″N71°07′42″W / 42.38146°N 71.12837°W / 42.38146; -71.12837