In 1938, a group of students interested in astronomy organized the Astrophysical Society. The Board of Trustees approved the Society's proposal to erect an observatory on the campus in 1940.

The Observatory was dedicated on September 25, 1942, by G. Howard Carragan, head of the Physics Department. The 12-inch Newtonian reflector was designed and constructed by Mr. Otto Rasmussen, instrument maker. Mr. and Mrs. Rasmussen have also donated an astronomical clock. The building itself was designed by Professor Ralph Winslow, head of the Department of Architecture. 1944 Transit p.41.

The Observatory, with its sixteen-foot dome, was located on the current site of the Low Center for Industrial Innovation. The observatory was renovated and relocated to the roof of the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center in 1983. It was dedicated as the Hirsch Observatory in honor of David Hirsch, Class of 1965 and Rensselaer Trustee, who donated money for the renovation.

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