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The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian traces an institutional lineage to the American origins of modern scientific thought and has kept pace with advancements in humanity’s knowledge of the Universe ever since. Formed from the two partners of the Harvard College Observatory, founded in 1839 and still working in concert with Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, this is the history we draw on today. 

A History of Collaboration

On July 1, 1973, the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University formalized their collaboration as the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. The goal of this new organization was to coordinate the related research activities of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO), founded in 1839, and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), founded in 1890, under a single director.

Today, the two observatories retain their separate identities, but their continued collaboration draws on the coordinated strengths and resources of the two organizations to create an atmosphere of innovation and shared discovery that echoes the “science first” nature of a combined mission.

To explore the full, rich history of the CfA | Harvard & Smithsonian, explore the individual pages of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO).

Explore Directors

Harvard College Observatory (HCO)

Founded in 1839, the HCO carries on a broad program of research in astronomy and astrophysics, working in concert with Harvard's Department of Astronomy.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO)

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) was founded in 1890 and began its tenure alongside other Smithsonian units on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In fact, operations were originally in a modest shed behind the Smithsonian Castle.