Michigan State finds a 142-year-old observatory buried on campus

About twenty men and women—all unidentified—are photographed in front of the Old Astronomy Building circa 1888. The circular, tile-roofed structure was the first observatory on the MSU campus, though no one knows exactly where it once stood.

In June, construction workers on the university’s campus in East Lansing, Michigan, unexpectedly came across the building’s foundation, which was erected in 1881. But little is known about the length of the structure, why it was removed, and what observations it may have yielded. It, after it was built by a former professor and his students.

Next summer the site will be transformed into a university field school where Stacy Camp, a professor of anthropology, and her students will continue to dig for answers. Students will gain credit while learning about the practice of archeology.

“One of the things we’re curious about is, if we can find any artifacts associated with the students who were studying there,” Professor Camp said. “Things like pencils, bottles or ceramics that students may have left behind, will help us determine the time period they were there.”

Professor Camp, director of the university’s archeology programme, which aims to protect archaeological and historic sites on campus, received a call in June from workers who said they had been hit with something hard while installing a hammock. Didn’t think much of it at first.

“There’s a lot of hard stuff underground that isn’t important at all,” she said.

But after the report, researchers in the Campus Archeology program began looking through maps and campus archives and discovered that an ancient observatory was located in that area. Michigan State is a window to the stars In a more modern observatorywhich features a 24-inch reflecting telescope, and was completed in 1969.

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Professor Camp said that although the maps made it appear as if the ancient observatory was located in that area, there was no guarantee. The institution would have been destroyed during several construction projects on the campus over the course of more than a century.

Campus archaeologists conducted a test of shovels, which consisted of digging small holes in the ground – about 50 by 50 cm – to see if they would hit anything. They end up hitting some kind of rock, and decide to open a square meter hole. They discover a more solid surface and conclude that they have hit some kind of bedrock.

Then they opened another hole and found that the foundation was curved, as the observatory did in the historical photographs that the researchers found.

Ben Aki, a graduate student and campus archaeologist assigned to research the history of the building, was confident it was the observatory after the second pit was opened.

“Once we were able to see the curvature and make this calculation,” they said, “I was more or less convinced.” “Especially because round masonry foundations aren’t something you come across very often.”

The 16-foot-wide circular building was built by Rolla Carpenter, who taught civil engineering and astronomy, among other subjects, and did the layout of the campus, they said.

Mr. Carpenter enlisted the help of his students to build the structure, as was common at MSU at the time. Construction costs for the building itself were $125, or about $4,000 in today’s dollars. Including the cost of the telescope, the observatory cost $450, or about $14,000 today.

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It is unclear when the building was removed, but it was likely sometime in the 1920s, According to the search Written by Horace A. Smith, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy who looked at maps and inventories of campus buildings, as well as class schedules.

Professor Camp said the campus archeology program did not excavate the entire institution immediately because there were not enough staff on campus during the summer months. She said she is looking forward to the results that will emerge once the undergraduate field study begins.

Morgan Manuzac, a rising student studying art history and anthropology, helped with the excavation this summer and hopes to participate in the field school.

Working on fossils was her first dig, she said, an opportunity that undergraduate students don’t come across very often. Students usually have to go abroad for fieldwork and these programs are generally looking for graduate students. She did on location in Greece last summer, but mainly photographed and digitally photographed sets.

“Just being able as an undergraduate to gain experience in the field Mrs. Manushack said. “They want someone who is going toward their Masters or further in grad school. So for us to have that experience is really invaluable, especially on our own campus.”

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