Still going strong in its 110th year, the McCormick `Great Refractor' is to the best of our knowledge the only telescope of its size and age still used regularly in research, teaching, and public viewing programs. It was the largest telescope in the United States at the time of its inauguration in 1885, and it is still the fourth largest telescope of its kind in the U.S.
The research emphasis is "astrometry". Photographs obtained on glass plate negatives with the McCormick telescope constitute our basic observational data. The main point of this work is to determine fundamental physical parameters for nearby stars, such as luminosity and mass, through high precision measurements of stellar distance ("trigonometric parallax") and the orbits of double stars. The photographic program was begun in 1914, and the McCormick Observatory is internationally renowned as one of the world's four most productive astrometric observatories.
The regular first and third Friday night public program has continued to be very popular and well received by local Charlottesville residents and area visitors alike. Most recently people have been treated to views of Saturn with its ring system edge on. About 75 people a night come to McCormick, and we have had about 300 people at Fan for each of its twice yearly open nights. Daytime tours were also given to school children during the week and for several special Saturday school enrichment programs.
The next Fan Mountain open night will be held on April 19, 1996. For further information contact the Astronomy Department (804-924-7494). Public night schedules and information is also available on the World Wide Web from the Department home page: http://www.astro.virginia.edu/