The Wallace Astrophysical Observatory is a teaching and research facility run by the planetary astronomy lab in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Students in the observing subjects at MIT, 12.409 "Hands-on Astronomy: Observing Stars and Planets" and 12.410 "Observational Techniques of Optical Astronomy", travel to Wallace to make observations. There are six telescopes mounted on permanent concrete piers at the site. The two largest telescopes at Wallace, the original Wallace 24-in and the new Elliot 24-in, each have their own domes. Four more 14-inch telescopes are housed in the "Shed, " a roll-off roof observatory. The main building at Wallace has a restroom with shower, a kitchenette area, a common room, a bunk room, a work room which doubles as the observer's control room for the Wallace 24-in, and a machine shop area.


The George R. Wallace Astrophysical Observatory was dedicated on October 14, 1971. It is named for a member of the MIT Class of 1913 who supported construction of the observatory. Also contributing was the estate of Mary Waterbury in the memory of her husband Charles Waterbury, Class of 1895.

The observatory was originally designed with two telescopes. A 24-in Cassegrain reflector in its own dome adjacent to the main building was intended for cutting edge research in optical astronomy and related sciences. (more 24-in history) A 16-in Cassegrain reflector in its own dome across the driveway was primarily intended for instructional purposes and as a test area for new instrumentation. (more 16-in history) In 1984 the observing shed was added to accomodate larger numbers of students taking observing subjects. (more shed history) In 2017, the Wallace 16-inch was replaced with a modern 24-inch telescope and named after our former director, James Elliot.

Prof. Jim Elliot, Observatory Director (1978-2011) James Ludlow Elliot, a professor of planetary astronomy and physics at MIT who discovered the rings of Uranus in 1977, died on March 3, 2011. He was 67. Elliot was known as one of the great observational planetary astronomers of the modern era. Among his accomplishments were leading the team that discovered the ring system of Uranus, and discovery of the atmosphere of Pluto. He was committed to excellence in teaching and mentoring, and was a staunch advocate for women in science. He will be greatly missed. 

We are currently exploring a major expansion of the Observatory and are accepting gifts to fund this project.  If you would like to know more, please visit, Expansion.  If you would like to contribute, here is the link to the Wallace Observatory Expansion Fund.

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