Michael A. Stecker


Former University of Michigan Lamont-Hussey Observatory
located on Naval Hill
Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa
observatory photo edited  from:
background information from:





Robert P. Lamont


William J. Hussey


LHO 27-inch refractor




About the Lamont-Hussey Observatory
The Lamont–Hussey Observatory (LHO) was a southern hemisphere astronomical observatory owned and operated by the University of Michigan (UM). It housed a 27-inch refractor, then the largest telescope south of the equator.  Located in the city of Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa, construction began in 1927 and was completed in 1928. The facility was closed in 1972.  When it was first in operation it was one of three observatories in Africa (the other two were run by Yale and Harvard Universities).
from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamont–Hussey_Observatory

.The observatory was a joint project of an industrialist Robert P. Lamont and University of Michigan astronomer William J. Hussey. The two men shared a room while attending UM, and were friends from that time.  In 1923, Hussey visited South Africa and selected Naval Hill in Bloemfontein as the site for the observatory.  In 1926, Hussey and another UM professor, R. A. Rossiter, left Michigan for the observatory site. During a stopover in London, Hussey died suddenly, but Rossiter continued the journey, and oversaw construction of the observatory for the next two years. He became the director of the LHO when it opened, and remained there until retiring in 1952. The facility was largely unused from when Rossiter retired until 1963, when it was officially re-opened by Frank Holden.  In its last few years, the main task performed was a re-examination of binary stars.  It was closed in 1972, and two years later the building was given to the Performing Arts Council of Free State in Bloemfontein, which turned it into the Observatory Theatre, also known as the Sterrewag Theatre.

The telescope
The LHO's primary instrument was a 27-inch (0.69 m) refracting telescope for its entire span of operations. The lens blanks were made by Carl Zeiss Jena in 1923.  They were then figured by James B. McDowell and Frederick Hageman of John A. Brashear, Co.. The finished lenses were assembled into a telescope great refractor by the Detroit Observatory's machine shop. The device was tested in Michigan and then shipped to South Africa, where it was installed and began operating in 1928.  In 1974, after closure of the observatory, the telescope was dismantled and the lenses were shipped back to Michigan. The tube and other parts remained in South Africa, and are on display at the Erlich Park Fire Station Museum.

Naval Hill Planetarium
After closure of LHO in 1974 the building was donated to the Performing Arts Council of the Free State and used for many years as a theater.  Recently, a partnership converted the facility to a planetarium, building a dome within a dome to house a 12-meter seamless aluminum screen. The new Naval Hill Planetarium had its formal dedication on November 1, 2013.  Astronomy Research Professor Patrick Seitzer spoke on behalf of the University of Michigan.


Naval Hill Planetarium, 2013
video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wefUtfwwc-I

The planetarium, situated at the old University of Michigan Lamont-Hussey Observatory Building on Naval Hill, has been established by the University of the Free State with the support of founding partners – the Department of Science and Technology, the Free State Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs and the Mangaung Metro Municipality. It will be the first component of a proposed Centre for Earth and Space at the site, which will be a multi-purpose facility hosting the digital planetarium, an environmental education centre and a science and arts garden. It will be a multi-disciplinary science communication and education centre.