UA's Steward Observatory Celebrates 100th Anniversary

By Sara Hammond
Published: Monday, October 10, 2016 - 11:18am
Updated: Monday, October 10, 2016 - 11:32am
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(Photo courtesy of UA Special Collections)
Steward Observatory in 1928.

A $60,000 gift to the University of Arizona 100 years ago started Tucson and southern Arizona on the path to world prominence in astronomy and related sciences. That legacy is about to be celebrated.

Lavinia Steward of Oracle made the gift to the UA in 1916 in her late husband’s memory. It was the university’s largest private gift up to that point. Steward Observatory was named for them.

Construction of the facility, designed by astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass, was delayed by World War I. The building was completed in 1922 and dedicated in 1923.

Douglass, who founded the science of dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, and who served as an interim UA president, inaugurated "Public Evenings" at Steward in the fall of 1922. The events — with lectures by astronomers and viewing of the night sky with the telescope if the skies are clear — have been held continuously since then, except during World War II, 1942-1945.

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UA astronomer Thomas Fleming said over the years, Steward has attracted scientists who, like Douglass, branched off into new areas of discovery, including planetary science and optical science.

The Oct. 17 Public Evening is dedicated to Lavinia Steward's gift. "Focusing the Universe," the story of Steward Observatory produced by Michael Mulcahy and Peter Beudert of the UA's School of Theatre, Film and Television, will be premiered, followed by a panel discussion. The evening will conclude with viewing time on the observatory's Raymond E. White 21-inch telescope in the white-domed building.