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The Beginning

In 1940, Harvard graduate student Walter Orr Roberts and his doctoral adviser, astrophysicist Donald Menzel, founded a small solar observing station high on the Continental Divide in Climax, Colorado. Roberts' assignment at the observatory was to last only one year, but, with the country's sudden entry into the war, he remained at Climax as sole observer, making daily observations of the solar chromosphere and corona. These coronal observations from Climax, with their implications for potential disturbance of terrestrial radio communications, became essential to the war effort.

From these small beginnings, the station evolved into the High Altitude Observatory and grew substantially after the war. In the late forties, HAO's laboratory and administrative facilities were transferred to the University of Colorado and the gentler climate of Boulder. In 1960, HAO formally became a division of a newly-established research institute in Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research.