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Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a research institute of the Smithsonian Institution headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it is joined with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) to form the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

The SAO was founded in 1890 by Samuel Pierpont Langley, the Smithsonian's third Secretary, primarily for studies of the sun. Langley is remembered today as an aeronautical pioneer, but he was trained as an astronomer and was the first American scientist to perceive "astrophysics" as a distinct field. Langley invented the bolometer and discovered infrared radiation from the sun.

In 1955, the SAO moved from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge, to affiliate with HCO and to expand its staff, facilities, and most importantly, its scientific scope. Fred Whipple, the first director of SAO in this new era, accepted a national challenge to create a worldwide satellite-tracking network, a decision that would establish SAO as a pioneer and leader in space science research.

Smithsonian and the USAF Project Space Track shared observations and ephemerides throughout the early days of satellite tracking, 1957–1961.

In 1973, the ties between Smithsonian and Harvard were strengthened and formalized by the creation of the joint Harvard-Smithsonian CfA.

SAO has operated a number of remote stations over the years.

Currently, more than 300 scientists at the CfA are engaged in a broad program of research in astronomy, astrophysics, earth and space sciences, and science education.

SAO's pioneering efforts in the development of orbiting observatories and large ground-based telescopes, the application of computers to astrophysical problems, and the integration of laboratory measurements, theoretical astrophysics, and observations across the electromagnetic spectrum have contributed much to our current understanding of the universe.

Station Type Latitude Longitude El. (m) Opened Closed Coordinates
Mount Wilson, California Solar 34º13'N 118º56'W 1737 1908 1920 34°13′N 118°56′W / 34.217°N 118.933°W / 34.217; -118.933
Hump Mountain, North Carolina Solar 36º8'N 82º0'W 1500 1917 1918 36°8′N 82°0′W / 36.133°N 82.000°W / 36.133; -82.000
Calama, Chile Solar 22º28'S 68º56'W 2250 1918 1920 22°28′S 68°56′W / 22.467°S 68.933°W / -22.467; -68.933
Mount Montezuma, Chile Solar 22º40'S 68º56'W 2711 1920  ? 22°40′S 68°56′W / 22.667°S 68.933°W / -22.667; -68.933
Mount Harquahala, Arizona Solar 33º48'N 113º20'W 1721 1920 1925 33°48′N 113°20′W / 33.800°N 113.333°W / 33.800; -113.333
Table Mountain, California Solar 34º22'N 117º41'W 2286 1925 1962 34°22′N 117°41′W / 34.367°N 117.683°W / 34.367; -117.683
Mount Brukkaros, Namibia Solar 25º52'S 17º48'E 1586 1926 1931 25°52′S 17°48′E / 25.867°S 17.800°E / -25.867; 17.800
Mount Saint Catherine, Egypt Solar 28º31'N 33º56'E 2591 1934 1937 28°31′N 33°56′E / 28.517°N 33.933°E / 28.517; 33.933
Burro Mountain, New Mexico Solar 32º40'N 108º33'W 2440 1938 1946 32°40′N 108°33′W / 32.667°N 108.550°W / 32.667; -108.550
Organ Pass, New Mexico Space Track 32º25'N 253º27'E 32°25′N 106°33′W / 32.417°N 106.550°W / 32.417; -106.550
Olifantsfontein, South Africa Space Track 25º58'S 28º15'E 25°58′S 28°15′E / 25.967°S 28.250°E / -25.967; 28.250
Woomera, Australia Space Track 31º06'S 136º46'E 31°06′S 136°46′E / 31.100°S 136.767°E / -31.100; 136.767
Cadiz, Spain Space Track 36º28'N 353º48'E 36°28′N 6°12′W / 36.467°N 6.200°W / 36.467; -6.200
Shiraz, Iran Space Track 29º38'N 52º31'E 29°38′N 52°31′E / 29.633°N 52.517°E / 29.633; 52.517
Curaçao, Netherlands West Indies Space Track 12º05'N 291º10'E 12°05′N 68°50′W / 12.083°N 68.833°W / 12.083; -68.833
Jupiter, Florida Space Track 27º01'N 279º53'E 27°01′N 80°07′W / 27.017°N 80.117°W / 27.017; -80.117
Haleakala, Hawaii Space Track 20º43'N 203º45'E 20°43′N 156°15′W / 20.717°N 156.250°W / 20.717; -156.250
Villa Dolores, Argentina Space Track 31º57'S 294º54'E 31°57′S 65°06′W / 31.950°S 65.100°W / -31.950; -65.100
Mitaka, Japan Space Track
Nani Tal, India Space Track
Arequipa, Peru Solar,
Space Track
Oak Ridge Observatory



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