Gazing starry eyed

Laws Observatory has been helping students and faculty peer deep into space for 170 years.

Feb. 28, 2023
Contact: Deidra Ashley,
Illustration by RJ Platto

Did you know astronomy has historic significance at the University of Missouri? In fact, one of the first permanent buildings on campus, completed almost a decade before the Civil War, was an astronomical observatory.

The observatory — the first U.S. observatory west of the Mississippi River — was constructed in 1853, just west of Academic Hall. Its presence is thanks, in large part, to William H. Hudson, one of MU’s first faculty members and university president from 1856–59.

In the early 1850s, curators granted money to acquire various scientific instruments. Some of these funds had been earmarked for astronomy equipment. That made it easy, in turn, for Hudson to argue for a building to properly house those instruments.

On Dec. 30, 1852, the Board of Curators proclaimed the construction of the building was “intended solely for astronomical purposes, [and] will commence an important era in the teaching of the Starry Science in Missouri.”

When MU moved the observatory to the north side of Francis Quadrangle in 1880, then-President Samuel S. Laws approved the purchase of a new telescope. The new observatory building soon bore his name.

Today, Laws Observatory is located on top of the Physics Building and hosts a number of small telescopes, a computer room and an astronomy exhibit featuring a collection of autographed pictures from NASA. Physics and astronomy students use the facility for research, and the observatory is open to the public on Wednesday nights.
Story written by Madalyn Murry

Plan a visit
The observatory is open Wednesday nights (except holidays) from 8–10 p.m., weather permitting.

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