Keeble Observatory

The Keeble Observatory is a teaching laboratory of the Physics Department of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.

Keeble Observatory exterior

Facility shown here was used by students in the College's astronomy courses and by advanced physics students with an interest in astronomy.

The Observatory is a cornerstone instrument in the College's minor program in astrophysics. The Observatory is also used for student and faculty research projects. It is located on the College campus, which is approximately 15 miles north of Richmond, Virginia.

The dome houses a 12" Cassegrain reflector. Supporting laboratories of the Physics Department, located in the adjacent Copley Science Center, provide a darkroom and a number of computers. Dedicated equipment for the Observatory includes CCD cameras, several portable telescopes, a photoelectric photometer with laptop computers for control and data acquisition, and a grating spectrograph.

Construction of the Observatory building was initiated to house a 12 inch Newtonian telescope built and donated in 1960 by Foy N. Hibbard, a former director of the United States Weather Bureau in Richmond, Virginia. The dome was completed and the Hibbard telescope was first used in 1963. The present Cassegrain telescope was purchased from Tinsley Laboratories with funding assistance from the National Science Foundation in 1966. In 1988 the telescope drive was completely replaced during renovations, which also included raising the telescope's pier and rebuilding the observing platform.

Adjacent to the Observatory was the 3-meter dish of the 1.4 GHz "Center of the Universe Radio Telescope (CURT1)." On the roof of the Copley Science Center was the dipole array for our second radio telescope, dubbed CURT2 (We decommissioned this telescope as of 2013 June 14. CURT1 was decommissioned in August 2016.)

This facility was razed in August 2016 in preparation for building a new and improved Keeble Observatory, to be attached to the northeast corner of the Copley Science Center. We anticipate "first light" under a new dome for a new 40 cm telescope in 2017.

Dr. William Keeble

Dr. William Houston Keeble, distinguished Professor of Physics at Randolph-Macon College from 1919 until his retirement in 1952, was a native of Blount, Tennessee.

He studied at Maryville College and at the University of Tennessee, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1903. He did graduate work at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, where he worked with 1923 Nobel laureate Dr. Robert A. Millikan. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Maryville College in 1945.

Before coming to Randolph-Macon, he was Professor of Physics at the College of William and Mary from 1907 to 1919. Dr. Keeble was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Astronomical Society, and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Directions to the Observatory

From Washington and north:

Take Interstate 95 south to the Ashland/Hanover exit (State Route 54). Follow Route 54 west to U.S. Route 1. Turn right onto Washington Highway and drive 2 blocks to Caroline Street (Better Med is on the corner).Turn left on Caroline and proceed to the College Campus.

From Richmond and south:

Take Interstate 95 north to the Ashland/Hanover exit (State Route 54), and follow the directions given above.

From Charlottesville and west:

Take Interstate 64 east to the interchange for Interstate 295. Take 295 toward Washington until the interchange for Interstate 95 north. Follow the directions given above.