Happy birthday, Mitchel telescope! April 14, 1845 was “first light night” (the astronomical equivalent of a maiden voyage) for the handsome instrument that Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, founder of the Cincinnati Observatory, purchased from the Merz und Mahler company of Munich. At 16 feet long, it was the third largest telescope in the world: Mitchel funded it by selling shares to scientifically-minded Cincinnatians.
Then—as now—the observatory was regularly opened to ordinary citizens eager to explore the cosmos. In 1873, when city skies became too sooty, the original Mt. Adams site gave way to an observatory in then-rural Mt. Lookout. The wooden tube, lenses, “finder,” and mounting are all original. It may be obsolete as a research tool, but it still works. “It shouldn’t,” says Dean Regas, astronomer at the Observatory and cohost of PBS’s popular Star Gazer program, “but it does.” When you realize how many generations have looked at the night sky through this scope, says Regas, “it’s an intimate moment.”