Originally constructed in the summer of 1962 on the northeast corner of campus, it was torn down to make way for the new physical education building in 1982. The new facility, near the Wapsi River Environmental Education Center, was dedicated in 1994 and named in honor of Monsignor Sebastian G. Menke (1910–2002). President of St. Ambrose from 1964-1972, astronomy was one of his favorite projects, and the observatory was the culmination of years of study of the stars and the planets.
Located on the southern bank of the Wapsipinicon River, the 225-acre facility is a perfect habitat for astronomers. The buildings are an ingenious blend of practicality and science.
The domed structure is sixteen-and-a-half feet wide, with a shutter opening that can be rotated to view any quadrant of the night sky. It was salvaged from the old observatory, and houses a 14-inch Cassegrain-Newtonian reflector. A small classroom/warming room is adjacent to the dome.
The second structure has a "roll-off roof" that can be cranked along a track to open the entire building to the night sky. Several smaller scopes are located in this building, along with 14-inch and 12-inch Newtonian reflectors.
Each star party is free, and visitors are welcome to bring their own telescopes or use the on-site scopes.
Call 563/333-6141 on the day of the event for a recorded message confirming whether the star party will take place or must be cancelled due to stormy weather. If the weather is merely cloudy, the star party will still take place with a tour of the observatory and an opportunity for questions and answers with local astronomers.