Ladd Observatory2017-08-01T16:15:27-04:00

Ladd Observatory

Ladd Observatory Map

Ladd Observatory

210 Doyle Ave.

Sat, Sept 23 11am-3pm 



Ladd Observatory is one of the oldest observatories in the country, dedicated in 1891 under the supervision of Professor Winslow Upton.

By day, the observatory is a carefully curated museum full of treasures and measuring tools: cosmic photographs, transit telescopes, precision pendulum clocks, astronomical clocks, chronometers, and a 12-inch refracting telescope that spans an incredible 15ft. There’s even a clock vault — a room that provides a vibration-free and temperature-stable environment for precision timekeeping. A project focused on the restoration, preservation and research into the use of these historic scientific instruments began in 2004 at the Observatory, still owned and operated by Brown University.

By night, the observatory opens up the cosmos, the ceilings in the dome and the first floor chamber split to reveal the night sky, facilitated by expert staff and beautiful telescopes for stargazing.

Behind the Scenes

Behold the cosmos, or at least 19th-century tools used to see it! You’ll also have the rare opportunity to peer through a solar telescope.

Read about our experience at Ladd Observatory on our Blog

Doors Open Rhode Island is made possible in part through the support of Brown University.

Photography by Christian Scully/Design Imaging Studios

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Night at the Museum: Ladd Observatory2017-08-01T17:01:44-04:00

From science fiction fantasies, like Star Wars and Stardust, to modern lovers soaring through space in the Griffith Observatory, (yes, that’s Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land) outer space has always sparked our imagination, inspiring an endless array of books, films, and media that portray constellations as a source of magic and epic tales. Indeed, stargazing appears to be the ultimate romantic venture that takes little else than a leisurely night stroll. It was with much anticipation that I visited Ladd Observatory, thrilled by the sheer idea of a room filled with gadgets for stargazing.

One of the oldest observatories in the country, Ladd is thick with the kind of character that only builds with time.  A historic outpost of Brown University’s campus, it sits on a secluded corner and rises above the treetops in a quiet neighborhood with few, if any, tall buildings. A spherical dome the color of pale ivory sits atop a brick building that dates back to the late 19th century, arousing curiosity.

Photo by Jane Kim

During the day, Ladd Observatory is a carefully organized museum. Mike Umbricht, the Observatory’s curator, explains that everything in the building has been preserved exactly as it was built in 1891. It feels like traveling through time to walk through the different exhibits on the first floor; sky charts and cosmic photographs are on display along with planetary globes and transit telescopes. It is not only the telescopes, however, that grab a visitor’s attention. Large heavy wheels sit in the corners, part of a pulley system designed to open up the ceiling for stargazing. When the wheels start to turn, it’s easy to imagine 19th century astronomers standing in the same spot.

It is at night, however, that the observatory springs to life, the wooden walls yawning awake, the entire building thrumming with the anticipation of visitors. Magic imbues the air, inexplicable but unquestionable. The telescopes are angled toward the planets, and the ceilings open up the sky from both the first floor and the dome. No amount of words or photos do justice to the ceiling parting aside to reveal scattered stars embedded in the deep blue of the sky, the clear liquid hue a stark contrast to the wooden ceiling overhead.

Photo by Christian Scully/Design Imaging Studios

Upstairs inside the dome, the massive telescope points to Jupiter with its 12-inch lens. Later in the night, the telescope shifts to point to Saturn, and through the eyepiece, the planet’s famed rings and even its faint clouds are visible.

On the outdoor deck, nothing obstructs the view of the entire expanse of the sky. Visitors line up behind the portable telescopes that amplify stars such as the double star Nu Draconis, or dragon eyes. But even with the naked eye, dozens of stars are visible; there are no flashing neon signs or fluorescent lights nearby to dim the starlight. Excited whispers, sighs, and small exclamations of delight and astonishment carry through the patio. Virgo shines high above with Jupiter gleaming brightly; Scorpius hangs closer to the horizon, the tail and claw lining up. Ursa Major is unmistakable, and it is even possible to make out Ursa Minor next to it.

On one of these mid-summer nights, try visiting the Ladd Observatory during their open hours. Take a stroll through the exhibits, and take the time to admire the telescopes on display. Be sure to stay until dusk turns to night to trace the stars with your eyes. The magnificent telescope, the historic building, and a host of constellations will present an unforgettable experience.

by Jane Kim

Site: Ladd Observatory, Address: 210 Doyle Avenue, Providence, RI, 02906

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