At remote observatory, UW looks to the cosmos

The Manastash Ridge, a basalt plateau that runs between Ellensburg and Yakima, is a favorite among hikers and snowshoers. It is also home to the UW’s 50-year-old observatory.

The remote site, on land owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, is about three hours from Seattle. In her history of the Manastash Ridge Observatory, Professor Emerita Julie Lutz writes that the faculty of the 1960s decided they needed a high-power telescope and chose a location on the east side of the Cascade Range where there is less cloud cover. With support from the National Science Foundation, some ingenuity from the professors and a 30-inch optical mirror from UC Berkeley, they dedicated the observatory in the spring of 1972.

Students now use the facility each summer, looking at variable stars, star clusters and the Milky Way galaxy in general. Mark Hammegren, ’92, ’98, discovered the asteroid 1466 Hodge there.

The observatory has survived the Mount St. Helens eruption, 30 years of unpaid rent—the University’s real estate office lost track of the account—and a regular need for repairs, which are often performed by the students.