Physics & Astronomy

About Us

C.E.K. Mees Observatory

Mees Observatory


The University of Rochester's C.E.K. Mees Observatory, devoted to research, teaching, and public instruction, is located 40 miles south of Rochester in the Bristol Hills (77o24'31.56" W, 42o42'01.0" N) at an elevation of 701 m (2260 ft). The Observatory houses a 61-cm Boller and Chivens Cassegrain reflector, dedicated May 8, 1965. In March 2000 the telescope was upgraded to computer control by DFM Engineering. The Mees site enjoys very dark skies, with the best weather being encountered in the summer months.

The Rochester Institute of Technology's Center for Imaging Science is an active partner in the Observatory. RIT has provided the facility's camera/imaging spectrograph, at the heart of which is a state-of-the-art 512x512 CCD and a voltage-tunable narrowband LCD filter. RIT is also investigating active-optical approaches to image improvement at the Observatory.

The Observatory is named after C. E. Kenneth Mees (1882-1960), longtime director of research at Eastman Kodak, in honor of his pioneering work in the development of sensitive photographic emulsions for use in astronomy. Its site on Gannett Hill includes the birthplace, and later the summer estate, of Frank E. Gannett (1876-1957), founder of the Gannett Newspapers. After Mr. Gannett's passing the estate was donated to the University of Rochester by his wife Caroline, for use as an observatory site. The Gannett family summer house now provides office space and sleeping quarters for the observers. The summit area adjacent to the estate, on which the telescope building sits, was ceded to UR by Ontario County.

The Observatory, the Gannett House, and the beautiful grounds surrounding them, are maintained by site superintendent Kurt Holmes, as they were by Kurt's father, Gene Holmes.


Though most of the astrophysical research conducted by the faculty and graduate students of UR and RIT involves large telescopes on high mountain sites or in space, the Mees Observatory is still used for astronomical research at visible wavelengths. Recent projects have included investigation of the Initial Mass Function of young stellar clusters (using photometry and imaging spectroscopy) and looking for planets transiting nearby stars.


The Observatory is used heavily in the introductory (freshman and sophomore) undergraduate astronomy classes at UR. Each student in AST 111 and AST 142 spends at least two nights per semester using the telescope and CCD camera/spectrograph as part of the laboratory components of these courses. Undergraduate students also have the option have using Mees observations as part of their senior thesis.


The University of Rochester offers free tours of the Mees Observatory on selected Friday and Saturday nights during June, July and August. The tours include an informational slide presentation on astronomy topics, the opportunity to visit Gannett House and the observatory, and – if skies are clear – viewing of astronomical objects in the 24” reflecting telescope. Tour guides are UR undergraduate and graduate students, and members of Rochester’s astronomy club, the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science. Though tours are free, reservations are required, and are made online at Contact Tours Director Carol Latta at (585) 230-9548 for assistance. More information on tours is available at

Memorial Gifts

Steven Varlese, former undergraduate in our department (B.Sc. 1975), unexpectedly passed away Nov. 29, 2008.  While at the UofR, Steve worked with Judy Pipher, as she developed her first instrumental programs in IR Astronomy.  Steve also gave tours at the C.E.K. Mees Observatory, and some time ago, he began to make yearly donations to the Observatory with the purpose of assisting young undergraduates in Astronomy. Steve moved to Ball Aerospace following graduation, and obtained an M.S. degree in optics while at Ball.  He did optical design, and systems engineering, supported several space missions, and became program manager for others.  In January of this year, Steve joined the Gemini instrument development team.  Please refer to the Gemini website where his memory is honored.  Donations in Steve's name can be sent to Little Thompson Observatory at and/or the University of Rochester’s C.E.K. Mees Observatory. Steve was closely associated with these observatories for many years, and they were also among his charities.


Kurt Holmes
(585) 374-2433 (Gannett House)
(315) 791-0787 (Observatory)
(585) 281-9224 (Cell)


C. E. K. Mees Observatory
6604 South Gannett Hill Road
Naples, NY 14512

Driving directions from Rochester >>

Gannett House

The Gannett House, next to the Mees Observatory, may be rented out to University personnel for retreats and conferences. More >>

Other Local Places to Learn About Astronomy

Rochester Museum & Science Center Strasenburgh Planetarium
657 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14607
24-Hour Information: (585) 271-1880
Box Office: (585) 271-4320
Strasenburgh Planetarium

Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science
PO Box 20292
Rochester, NY 14602

Astronomy and Astrophysics Links >>

Learning the Constellations

We recommend the book:

A Walk through the Heavens: A Guide to Stars and Constellations and their Legends
Milton D. Heifetz & Wil Tirion
ISBN 0521625130