That's Soooo Cincinnati

Observatory on a Star Trek

Ryan Greis

They've been 'scoping things out here for the better part of a century and a half. We're talking the Cincinnati Observatory Center, located in aptly named Mount Lookout, which boasts a number of record titles: It's one of the hemisphere's oldest operating observatories, it's labeled "the birthplace of American astronomy" and it's the home to the roots of the National Weather Service.

In these days of Doppler-gangers and pseudo-scientific TV weathermen, we forget the task of weather prediction once lay in the hands of astronomers — people who actually knew a thing or two about planetary forces.

"It's the nation's first professional observatory, founded in 1842 by Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel," says board member John Ventre, adding that Fort Mitchel (later Fort Mitchell) was named after the astronomer.

The observatory houses the nation's oldest professional telescopes still in public use — a Merz & Mahler purchased in Germany in 1842 and an Alvan Clark & Sons purchased in America in 1904.

Among the observatory firsts: the discovery of the Mountains of Mitchel on Mars, the publication of the nation's first astronomical journal Sidereal Messenger, the introduction of Standard Time in America, the first daily announcement of weather bulletins, the development of technology to track German submarines during World War II and the production of orbital calculations used by NASA to plan John Glenn's first orbit around the earth. The observatory, which housed the city's first computer back in the 1940s, was named the world's Minor Planet Center in 1947, charged with tracking comets and asteroids.

The city's reputation a century ago was as a beacon of open-minded scientific inquiry, and now we're saddled with a rep as a close-minded, backwater burg. That's soooo Cincinnati.

THAT'S SOOOO CINCINNATI highlights the area's quirky assets, hidden gems, unique personalities and criminal secrets — and reprises one of the most popular features in CityBeat's 10-year history.

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