Department of Physics and Astronomy

50th Anniversary of Ritter Astrophysics Research Center

Ritter 50th Anniversary

Construction of Ritter Observatory and PlanetariumThe excitement of the recent solar eclipse touched hearts and sparked the imaginations of generations of families across the country who crowded streets to witness something powerful in the universe. Here at UT’s Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory, we also are planning to celebrate a major milestone and are in need of the public’s help to share its rich history of education, outreach and celestial exploration. Friday, October 13, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the University’s astronomy program, the Ritter Planetarium, and the Brooks Observatory.


Turin inspects Ritter's mirrorThe Ritter facility was dedicated on Oct. 13, 1967, with Helen Brooks as the first planetarium director. The Brooks Observatory located in the dome on top of McMaster Hall was later named in honor of Brooks and her late husband, Elgin. The one-meter-diameter telescope housed on top of the Ritter building is the largest optical telescope in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. The Ritter facility was deliberately planned to blend research and public education for the University, local schools and community. One of the joys of astronomy is that people are inherently curious about it, and so sharing our research and our telescopes with the community have been vital in our mission from the beginning.


Below are the scheduled events to celebrate our golden anniversary:

  • On June 15 University of Toledo alum Fred Espenak gave a public talk about the “Great American Eclipse”. Mr. Espenak is one of our outstanding alums, having earned his Masters in Astrophysics from The University of Toledo in 1976. His photos were featured in the USPS eclipse forever stamp.
    Fred Espenak, "Mr. Eclipse"

  • On October 26 a 6:30 we had a free public Open House at Ritter Planetarium, involving a reception and an overview of the history of the Ritter Observatory and Planetarium, including talks by our own Dr. Witt and Dr. Jon Bjorkman.
    Rudolph Libbe's construction of Ritter

  • On Feb 8 at 6 p.m. Dr. Robert Dempsey gave a public talk "Houston, we have a problem – when things go wrong on the International Space Station" in the Driscoll Alumni Center in the auditorium (room 1019). Robert Dempsey is a flight director for the International Space Station at mission control at NASA Johnson Space Center. Additionally, Dr. Dempsey is one of our past outstanding alums, having earned his Ph.D. in physics from UToledo in 1991. Read the Toledo Blade article about his talk or watch the 13abc interview.
    Dr. Robert Dempsey in Mission Control at Johnson Space Cennter
    Dr. Dempsey mentioned that the stories of flight directors and the ISS will be published in a book, which is now available! You can read it online as an ebook.  

  • On Feb 22 at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Ken Sembach gave a talk, "Great Observatories, Present and Future" about the James Webb Space Telescope in Wolfe Hall 1205. Dr. Sembach is the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which handles the Hubble Space Telescope and the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. Dr. James Webb, who the upcoming infrared telescope is named in honor of, attended the dedication of Ritter as the head of NASA and was given an honorary degree. Read the Blade article about this talk.
    Dr. Ken Sembach
Last Updated: 4/15/18