Bradley Observatory Turns 65

This year, the Bradley Observatory (84 17 38.98 W, 33 45 54.84 N) celebrates its 65th year of operation. Dedicated June 3, 1950, the observatory was named in honor of William C. and Sarah Hall Bradley. It was the brainchild of William Calder, who came to Agnes Scott from Harvard in 1947 under the condition that Agnes Scott would get a telescope that he could use for observations. 

Calder was a student of Harlow Shapley, an American astronomer who helped popularize astronomy. The Lewis H. Beck telescope was bought in 1947 and was the largest telescope in Georgia and the Southeast for 20 years, until the Fernbank Science Center began using its new telescope in 1967. The costs of the telescope and the observatory were $15,000 and $85,000, respectively.

Calder was one of the founders of the Atlanta Astronomy Club and hosted open houses at Agnes Scott for many years. The public was invited every Friday night to come and use the telescope. Charles A. Dana Professor of Astronomy and Chair Chris De Pree says, “Many of the people who now come to our open houses who are in their 50s and 60s came to Calder’s open houses as kids. In Atlanta in the 1950s, his open houses were a popular place to go.”

Agnes Scott continues to have a very strong physics and astronomy program. Roughly four percent of Agnes Scott’s graduating class has consisted of physics majors over the past few years, an unprecedented number compared to the vast majority of other colleges and universities, says De Pree. “There are few other colleges that graduate this proportion of their students in physics and astronomy. It's very unusual.”

SARA is a consortium of twelve colleges and universities, which already remotely operates facilities in Arizona and Chile.

The member schools are Florida International University, the Florida Institute of Technology, East Tennessee State University, Valdosta State University, Agnes Scott College, Ball State University, the University of Alabama, Butler University, Valparaiso University, Clemson University, Texas A&M University-Commerce and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

A more in-depth article chronicling the history of the observatory and its impact on Agnes Scott students, as well as the Decatur and Atlanta community, will appear in the upcoming issue of Agnes Scott The Magazine.

To learn more about the Bradley Observatory visit