Jacobsen Observatory



The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory is the second-oldest structure on the campus. Built in 1895, the Observatory with its 126-year old, 6-inch refracting telescope is still offering celestial views of the wonders of the Universe. Here you will find information on opened nights, making reservations, a history of the telescope, a history of astronomy at the UW, and even an operating manual for the telescope. Come join us in a tour; there is no charge to learn about and view the night sky!

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TJO Evening Public Talks

The majority of the talks of the open house season are given by undergraduates at the University of Washington, individuals who are either majoring in physics and astronomy or are in other majors but really enthusiastic about astronomy. Talks are geared towards the general public with no prior knowledge of astronomy necessary, and we always do our best to make the talks child-friendly. Please come and lend your support. By being in the audience you will be taking part in the educational program at the UW.

The talks on a given evening start approximately 5 minutes after opening and take place in the classroom that adjoins the Observatory. If the sky is clear enough, the dome will be open for viewing celestial objects through the ancient telescope. Reservations are necessary for the talks and viewing the dome telescope after the talks finish. No reservations are needed to tour the rest of the Observatory and take part in the exhibits, activities, and viewing through outdoor telescopes available on the Observatory grounds.

2019 Observing Season and Open Houses at Jacobsen Observatory
Month 1st Tues 3rd Tues Hours
April 2 (FULL) 16 (FULL) 8 – 10 pm
May 7 (FULL) 21 9 – 11 pm
June 4 (FULL) 18 (FULL) 9 – 11 pm
July 2 (FULL) 16 (FULL) 9 – 11 pm
August 6 (FULL) 20 (FULL) 9 – 11 pm
September 3 17 8 – 10 pm

Talks Schedule

The topics and abstracts for the 2019 observing season are listed below. These talks are 20-25 minutes each with time for questions afterwards, giving us plenty of time to view celestial objects if the night skies are at all clear.

Please note – reservations include spots for BOTH talks in one night.

The schedule below may be subject to change, so please check back in occasionally.



8:00 pm: Aislynn Wallach, The Future of Telescopes

In order to look deeper into our universe, we need telescopes that are able to gather more light. However, there are limits to how much telescopes can do on the ground without some clever work-arounds. Here, I will discuss the current state of ground-based observatories, the telescopes of the future (and today!) that are overcoming the Earth’s limitations, and their impacts on astronomy at large.

8:30 pm: Aleezah Ali, Binary Stars

A binary star system consists of two stars orbiting each other, and they make up 70% of the stars you see in the night sky making them a crucial aspect of stellar astrophysics research. There are many types of binaries that come in all shapes and sizes and there are many different ways of observing and studying them. They are especially important to the filed of stellar research as they provide us with insights which lone stars cannot. In this talk, we will learn about the many different types of binaries, how they can be studied, and see an example of how it’s actually done in research today.

April 16 (FULL – NO SPOTS LEFT) – Earth Day Week Event!

8:00 pm: Oliver Fraser

8:30 pm: Kathryn Neugent and Phil Massey, Why it is difficult to be an observational astronomer in Seattle

Observing the night sky is difficult in Seattle. There are clouds, rain, and lots of city lights making the stars difficult, if not impossible, to see. Here we will discuss why some places are better for observational astronomy than others and where some of those places are and how to find them. Finally, we’ll talk about some of the ways that you can advocate for dark skies so that observational astronomy can continue for decades to come.


9:00 pmAstrid Hoover-Batt, The Story of the Moon

The Moon isn’t something we think of too often, except when we happen to see it in one of its many shapes in the night sky. However, this milky white sphere helps us explain many things—from the tides to American politics. This talk will explore how the Moon was made, and dive into the significance it has to us here on Earth.

9:30 pm: Alex Nelson, Hunting for Exoplanets

An exoplanet is a planet that orbits any star other than the sun, and is thus outside our solar system. In this talk, I will discuss the basic characteristics of typical exoplanets and what they generally look like. Then, I will cover where astronomers have looked for exoplanets, the types of stars they orbit, and the different observational methods commonly used to detect exoplanets. Then, I will present current constraints on how common exoplanets are and what technological advances would be required to travel to exoplanets. Lastly, I will close by estimating the possibility of life on these exoplanets, and elaborating on their habitability.

May 21

9:00 pmGeorge Schafer, Meteors and Comets: Observation Through the Ages

Throughout history, peoples from all over the world have looked up at the skies and seen ‘shooting stars.’ This talk explores such observed phenomena (which we now know as comets and meteors) and the significance that these events have had through time. We will examine how people’s perceptions and knowledge of ‘shooting stars’ evolved with discoveries and advancements in science.

9:30 pm: Sarah Burke, The Multiverse

I will be discussing the basic idea of the case for a multiverse, or parallel universes. This includes people who played an important role in the idea’s development and a simplified explanation of what the general concept is and its different variations. Most importantly, I will play with the idea that even though we don’t know for certain if it exists yet, the truth may be stranger than fiction.


9:00 pmEmily Graham, Black Holes

This talk will be a 20-minute crash course on the fascinating anomaly of space that is a black hole! I plan to discuss the science behind black holes, but with great emphasis on why I think they are fascinating objects (I promise it won’t be a physics lecture). I will also touch on how black holes relate to Einstein and why that famous picture we just captured of the supermassive black hole in M87 is so amazing.

9:30 pm: Aaron Winey, Why Pluto is Not a Planet

Many people may have grown up with Pluto being a planet, but in 2006 Pluto was demoted from planet status by the International Astronomical Union. While this may seem like a major demotion, I prefer to think of Pluto’s change as a marker of progress in our understanding of the solar system. I would like to discuss the rules of being a planet, the enormous potential that still lies in investigating Pluto, and the unique properties that make Pluto a Plutoid or dwarf planet.


9:00 pmHielen Enyew, Dimensions

Have you ever thought about dimensions? What are the dimensions that define our reality and surround us? Can we touch dimensions? How many dimensions are there? Our everyday experience tells us that we live in a world with three spatial dimensions, plus time as a fourth dimension. In this talk, I will discuss the 11 dimensions envisioned by String Theory, and present several analogies that make understanding them possible.

9:30 pm: Colton Peterson, Weird Stars

Although there are many stars that live out typical lifecycles, some exhibit truly weird stellar phenomena. This presentation takes a journey through just a few of the many stellar oddities that researchers have found in their exploration of the cosmos. These rare occurrences are not only inherently fascinating,  but can also be used as tools to learn more about the universe.


9:00 pm: Steven Grimmett, Black Holes

So, what exactly are black holes, and where in the universe do they come from? Are all black holes the same, or are they different? It turns out that most black holes in the Universe originated from stars that would make ours look small. These giant stars erupt in an explosion called supernovae at the end of their lives. What is left is matter that has been compressed so tightly, that it manages to warp and puncture the space around it. Black holes are broken into three different classifications or sizes. The smaller and more frequent stellar black holes, the elusive and infrequent intermediate black holes, and the super massive black holes at the centers of galaxies. Since black holes are hard to capture, we use 3 major methods in locating them in the universe. Gravitational lensing, acceleration of nearby stars, and emitted radiation. Once we can detect black holes, we can learn all kinds of things about them, including how they feed.

9:30 pm: TBD


9:00 pm: Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein, Nucleosynthesis

9:30 pm: TBD


9:00 pm: TBD

9:30 pm: TBD

August 20 (FULL – NO SPOTS LEFT)

9:00 pm: TBD

9:30 pm: TBD

September 3

8:00 pm: TBD

8:30 pm: TBD

September 17

8:00 pm: TBD

8:30 pm: TBD


We apologize for not being able to accommodate everyone who wants to visit the Observatory and take part in the talks given by UW undergraduates. The classroom holds only 45 people; the dome that houses the 1892 refracting telescope can have a maximum of 12 -15 people at a time. Visits to the dome and discussions with Seattle Astronomical Society members last about 10-15 minutes. “Tickets” (which are free) to visit the dome are distributed during the start of each open house.

Seattle Astronomical Society members operate the ancient refracting telescope in the dome and can find fascinating treasures of the night sky. Their members are an endless source of information and enthusiasm about astronomy.


Reservations are strongly recommended for the talks as the TJO classroom holds only 45 people. Those with reservations have priority viewing for the dome.  While all are welcome to visit without reservations, please note that only the activities and the smaller telescopes set up in the Observatory grounds will be available. Usually for the July through September open houses, those without reservations do not get to visit the dome until close to closing time.

We are currently taking reservations through email only: tjores@uw.edu  Be sure to include the date you would like to attend and how many people will be joining you.  Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate visits outside of the regular nights during our observing season, April through September. No reservations are possible for October through March.

Special Group & School Reservations

We are especially glad to welcome adult recreation groups, groups of students with special needs, K-12 classes, and home-schooling groups (and more) to the Observatory.  We can work with the supervisors/leaders/teachers on topics that they would like presented. We also have a wide variety of activities that we could include in the evening’s program. We are currently taking reservations through email only: tjores@uw.edu

Be sure to include the date you would like to attend and how many people will be joining you. The maximum number of visitors in the group or class is 45. If there are any special arrangements needed, also include that in your email.


We are located at the north end of the University of Washington campus, just east of the Burke Museum, at the intersection of NE 45th Street and Memorial Way (17th Avenue NE). If you are coming from:

  • Eastside: Take 520 W to Montlake Exit. Left at 2nd light (on to Pacific). Come to 15th Avenue NE and make a right. The Physics/Astronomy building is on the corner, but this is NOT where you want to go. Continue up 15th Avenue NE until NE 45th Street. Take a right and continue east. You will see the Burke Museum on your right. Take a right at the next intersection. You will be going south on Memorial Way. If the parking gates are open (Gate 2), you will need to stop and get a permit. Lots N1 and N5 are the closest to the Observatory.
  • North or South: I-5 to NE 45th Street exit (University of Washington). Take NE 45th Street East until you see the Burke Museum on your right. Take a right at the next intersection. You will be going south on Memorial Way. If the parking gates are open (Gate 2), you will need to stop and get a permit. Lots N1 and N5 are the closest to the Observatory.


The University of Washington has lots of information on parking on campus for school and other bus transportation. Please visit the UW Parking Services web site for complete instructions and contact/permit information. If you are coming by car or car pool and it is earlier than 9 pm, then you will need to check in with the gate keepers at the north entrance (Gate 2) to the U of W campus for a permit and directions.

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory Newsletter

The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory Newsletter comes out roughly once per year and contains articles written by undergraduates at the University of Washington.

Spring-Summer 2019
Spring-Summer 2018 
Spring-Summer 2017
Winter-Spring 2016
Winter-Spring 2015
Winter-Spring 2014
Summer-Fall 2013

Support the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory

If you would like to make a gift that will go directly towards enriching our educational public outreach efforts at the Observatory, visit the direct link  https://www.washington.edu/giving/make-a-gift/?source_typ=3&source=FROBSV.  Thank you for your support!

Friends of the Campus Observatory Fund

The fund was originally created to support maintenance and upkeep of the campus observatory; however, all of the funds currently go towards supporting our educational outreach open houses, activities, and programs.