Sharing Stories of Everyday Good

From Cold War relic to star attraction

Built on the site of an old U.S. Army base in Connecticut, the Westport Observatory has been revealing the wonders of the night sky since 1975.

At the height of the Cold War, the observatory grounds hosted two radar towers designed to spot incoming Soviet bombers and direct Nike missiles to intercept them. As tensions eased and military technology rendered those missiles obsolete, the base was abandoned.

Local amateur astronomers realized that the massive concrete radar piers perched on the highest point in Westport would make a great telescope platform, and the Westport Astronomical Society was formed.

As our club has grown, so too have our efforts to bring science to the community. For decades now, WAS members have volunteered their time and knowledge to host free public viewing every week of the year (weather permitting).

Westport Observatory with rainbow Built on the site of an old U.S. Army base in Connecticut, the Westport Observatory has been revealing the wonders of the night sky since 1975. (Photo: Westport Astronomical Society)

Thanks to the generous support of individuals and organizations like the Newman’s Own Foundation, the Westport Observatory now hosts a recently installed 16” Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and a 25” Dobsonian reflector (the largest telescope in Connecticut available to the public).

Our dedicated solar refractor provides incredible views of our local star, and monthly lectures in our classroom feature leading astrophysicists and researchers from Columbia, Yale, Wesleyan, and more.

WAS members frequently take their telescopes on the road for day and night astronomy outreach at public libraries, festivals, and even Westport’s First Night.

young kid looks through scope A new initiative provides resources for local high school teachers to encourage students to visit the observatory and foster an early interest in science. (Photo: Westport Astronomical Society)

Special events are especially popular, and the 2017 partial solar eclipse drew over a 1,000 visitors in one day.

The Westport Observatory has even been named one of the top 10 most romantic places in Fairfield County. Where else can you actually promise the moon?

The Westport Astronomical Society isn’t just for fun, though. WAS members perform real science by recording asteroid occultations and fluctuations in variable stars. Our amateur radio club serves as an emergency communications base for the area, and we host a USGS seismometer that monitors earthquakes throughout the globe.

view of stars from telescope At the height of the Cold War, the observatory grounds hosted two radar towers designed to spot incoming Soviet bombers and direct Nike missiles to intercept them. (Photo: Westport Astronomical Society)

A new initiative provides resources for local high school teachers to encourage students to visit the observatory and foster an early interest in science.

In 2018, we entered the next phase of capital improvements to refurbish and upgrade the Westport Observatory facilities The addition of a second observatory dome and telescopes donated from the Round Hill Observatory in Greenwich will facilitate advanced astrophotography capabilities and allow more precise science measurements.

the observatory at night The society's amateur radio club serves as an emergency communications base for the area. (Photo: Westport Astronomical Society)

We may even be able to broadcast live views of the moon and planets direct from Westport. With every new member, every visitor, every child that peeks through a telescope for the first time and gasps at the rings of Saturn, we hope to become the literal “star attraction” of Fairfield County and spark an interest in science for generations to come.

- story by by Shannon Calvert, Westport Astronomical Society President

For over 40 years, the Westport Astronomical Society has brought the wonders of the night sky to the thousands who have visited the observatory. We’re an all volunteer-run, non-profit organization that’s free and open to the public on a weekly basis.

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