Standeford Observatory

by Dr. James Pierce

Emeritus Professor of Astronomy
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Standeford Observatory — the smaller of the two campus observatories -- is home to a variety of telescopes. These instruments are used primarily for visual observations of the sky by MSU students and other observatory visitors. Standeford Observatory is staffed by undergraduate student observing assistants under the supervision of astronomy faculty members.

Standeford Observatory 2007
September 2007


Standeford Observatory is located at the far south end of the campus, adjacent to the Ropes Course and about 150 yards west of Andreas Observatory. It can be reached by walking through the gate at the end of Lot 1 and following the road south for about 400 yards.

Maps to Andreas and Standeford Observatories

Coordinates of Standeford Observatory:

Sky Conditions at Standeford Observatory


14" Meade

Inside the 3-meter Observa-DOME is the principal telescope at Standeford Observatory -- a 14" Meade LX200 (a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain). This computerized telescope stores the coordinates of over 140,000 celestial objects in its memory.

Standeford Observatory 14-inch Meade
14" Meade LX200 — September 2003

Additional Telescopes

The other telescopes at Standeford Observatory are used outside the dome, on the concrete pad. Most are Newtonians with Dobsonian mounts; all are mounted on rolling platforms for easy positioning around the pad.

Standeford Observatory Telescopes
August 2009

The current roster of 'outside' telescopes includes the following:


Standeford Observatory has normally been open regularly during the fall and spring observing seasons, used primarily by students in astronomy and related classes. Hours and days of operation vary with the season, the weather, the pandemic, and demand. Consult the Department of Physics and Astronomy for more details.

Comet Hale-Bopp over Standeford Observatory
Comet Hale-Bopp over Standeford Observatory
4/12/1997; ISO 400, 50mm f/1.4, 10s


In 1978, Dr. Leo V. Standeford — professor of astronomy at MSU from 1968 to 1981 — acquired a 3–meter Observa–DOME and placed it on the roof of Trafton Science Center. There it sheltered the small telescopes used for student observations. However, vibration of the roof made this site less than ideal for observing, resulting in the relocation of the dome to the south edge of campus.

By 1980, the observatory was a fenced enclosure containing the Observa-DOME on a concrete pad, but without any telescope inside the dome. A small metal storage shed and an experimental radio telescope — built by Dr. Standeford and his students — also shared space on the pad. Dr. Standeford was constructing a 12.5-inch Cassegrain telescope for use in the dome at the time of his death in June, 1981.

Standeford Observatory 1981
Fall 1981


In the next year, the astronomy faculty worked to make the observatory functional, removing the radio telescope from the site and purchasing a Celestron 11 (an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain) in the spring of 1982. A concrete pier was poured, the new telescope was installed, and Leo V. Standeford Observatory was dedicated by President Margaret Preska on May 1, 1982.

Standeford Observatory Plaque Standeford Observatory Dedication
May 1, 1982


Soon after the dedication, a windstorm destroyed the metal storage shed; but in the fall of 1983 a new shed was constructed to accommodate the observatory's additional telescopes, a collection that has increased significantly over the years. The radio telescope was removed to make room for this larger shed.

In August 2003, after 21 years of hard use, the C11 was retired from the dome and replaced by the 14" Meade LX200. A new base was constructed for the C11, and it now serves outside the dome with the other telescopes used at the site.

In May 2005, after 23 years of manual dome rotation, the Standeford Observa-DOME was finally motorized. Azimuthal motors were apparently not standard equipment in 1978, but the Observa-DOME folks were happy to fabricate a special bracket that mounts one of their motor-driven tires on the dome. This allowed the dome to be rotated by throwing a switch, making the observing assistants' job that much easier.

Standeford Observatory Dome Motor
New dome motor — May 2005


From 1982 to 2006, Standeford Observatory was located on the southern edge of campus about 250 yards southeast of the Gage dormitory parking lot (Lot 1).

Standeford Observatory 2004
October 2004 — a very cloudy month

In the summer of 2006, Standeford Observatory was relocated to a new site farther south, about 400 yards beyond the Lot 1 gate, in the woods next to the MSU Ropes Course.

Standeford Observatory Relocation Map

This location provides better screening from campus lighting, a larger observing pad and storage shed for the Standeford telescopes, and improved event coordination with Andreas Observatory, only 150 yards to the east.

Relocation of the 3-meter Observa-DOME was accomplished without a problem on July 25, 2006, thanks to a very capable construction crew.

Liftoff from the old Standeford pad and pier

Clearing the fence

Trucking into the woods

Settling into place over the new pier

Home at last -- July 27, 2006

Standeford Observatory and its new neighbors:

Standeford Observatory -- just east of the Ropes Course

Standeford Observatory -- near the ROTC Rappelling Tower

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Created March 19, 2021; last modified March 20, 2021
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