Astronomy

What makes a really good observatory site, besides altitude?

What makes a really good observatory site, besides altitude?


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Let's limit this to optical telescopes.

I understand that the higher you are, the less atmosphere is above you to get in the way of observations. From reading around, there seem to be a few more but I'm not sure:

  • Not near an active or dormant volcano (but Mauna Kea seems to disprove this?). This is kinda a bummer because a lot of tall mountains seem to be volcanic.

  • Somewhere with clear and/or dry weather for as much of the year as possible

  • Not near major light pollution like cities

  • Cold weather is better than hot weather? Not sure I understand that; if it's uniformly hot or cold then I don't see how it makes a difference.

Am I missing any? Or are these wrong in some way?

As a concrete example, would the Tibetian plateau make a really good observatory site? (Not considering construction or transportation costs to a remote area, of course.)


• Not near an active or dormant volcano (but Mauna Kea seems to disprove this?). This is kinda a bummer because a lot of tall mountains seem to be volcanic.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with dormant volcanos, as Mauna Kea and the observatories in the Canary Islands demonstrate. Not sure where you would have gotten that idea.

• Somewhere with clear and/or dry weather for as much of the year as possible

Clear weather is essential -- you can't observe when it's cloudy!

Dry weather is very good, especially for infrared observations (water vapor blocks a lot of infrared light).

• Not near major light pollution like cities

Yes.

• Cold weather is better than hot weather? Not sure I understand that; if it's uniformly hot or cold then I dont see how it makes a difference.

Cold climates tend to have drier air. (Antarctica is an extreme case.) Of course, being on top of a mountain means colder air, which is why Mauna Kea is good despite it's being in the tropics.

Am I missing any? Or are these wrong in some way?

You also want stable air with good "seeing", which rules out places with turbulent air and lots of wind (and is another reason mountaintops are good: they're usually above the most turbulent layers of the atmosphere). Quoting from this page (which has a good discussion of the general topic):

Seeing… requires at minimum a lack of extra turbulence at all atmospheric levels, and seems to be best satisfied in the convergence zones just outside the tropics, at latitudes about ± 30º. Also, minimal local turbulence is often associated with mountain peaks that reach into the otherwise undisturbed oceanic airflow, as on islands or coastal ranges (and given the direction of the planet's rotation, this generally favors western coast ranges).


About the Observatory

The Brigham Young University (BYU) West Mountain Observatory (WMO) is a modern astronomical research facility located approximately one hour from the main BYU campus in Provo, Utah. West Mountain is a lone mountain in the center of Utah Valley on the southeast shore of Utah Lake. The observatory is located slightly west of Long Ridge about a quarter mile from the numerous communications towers seen near the center of the 6850 foot West Mountain. The site itself is far enough to the west of the developed areas along the Wasatch Mountains so that it continues to produce high quality research observations. Overhead and to the west, the sky brightness at West Mountain comparable to that of Kitt Peak National Observatory, while the median seeing conditions are as good or better.


About Ridge A

What makes a good observing site? Nearly every kind of astronomical telescope benefits from a site that provides clear, dry, and dark conditions. While the stormy weather on the Antarctic coast is legendary, the high plateau in the center of the continent is quite the opposite. It lies at the eye of the storm it is a calm, clear polar desert that offers space-like observing conditions while comfortably standing on terra firma. Thus, siting a telescope at the summit of the Antarctic plateau has significant advantages over essentially anywhere else on Earth:

In particular, one's ability to do infrared, submillimeter-wave and terahertz astronomy hinges on the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, since water molecules absorb this light very effectively before it reaches the ground.

Really! In the summer, there is enough moisture in the air at most midlatitude locations on Earth, at the frequency of the ionized carbon line (1900 GHz), light can only travel 10-50 meters before it is mostly absorbed by the intervening water vapor.

This effectively forces such astronomical observatories to the highest and driest sites where this atmospheric absorption is minimized. The bitterly cold air holds no water vapor, and what little remains freezes out into tiny ice crystals. This makes the summit of the Antarctic plateau the driest place on Earth.

We selected the Ridge A site from satellite data to be the best location for an astronomical observatory on the Antarctic plateau, and indeed, anywhere on Earth. It is located on the summit ridge of the ice plateau at 81:40:25 South latitude and 72:42:58 East longitude at a physical elevation of 13,260' (4040 m) with a typical pressure altitude of 15,200' (4650 m). It constitutes the origin of the continent's famous katabatic winds and is perhaps the calmest place on Earth, with typical winds of 4 knots (2 m/s). Even more important for infrared and terahertz telescopes is the extreme cold. Winter temperatures routinely drop below -100F (-70C), providing for a very dry, stable, clear atmosphere. The extremely low amount of water vapor that results allows observations to be routinely performed here that cannot be done reliably anywhere else on Earth. While it is perhaps the most remote site on the planet, it is nevertheless still accessible by aircraft or ground traverse.


The Jet With a 17-Ton Telescope That NASA Uses as a Flying Observatory

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SOFIA is a heavily modified flying observatory. German Aerospace Center

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If you thought Boeing 747s weren’t useful for understanding how stars are formed, you don’t know about SOFIA.

Officially known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 747 Special Performance jetliner, with a 17-ton, 8-foot telescope mounted behind a 16-by-23-foot sliding door that reveals the infrared telescope to the skies.

The plane’s ability to fly near the edges of the atmosphere gives it better visibility than ground-based observatories. And the fact that it makes regular appearances on Earth's surface, unlike a space telescope, means it can easily be repaired or reprogrammed when necessary.

NASA and its partner on the project, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), expect SOFIA to keep flying for another 20 years. To that end, they’ve grounded the world’s only flying observatory for extensive maintenance that will take five months.

The 747SP was designed by Boeing in the 1970s to fly faster, higher, and farther than other versions of the 747. The company's engineers shortened the fuselage by 55 feet to cut weight, but left the power plants intact, giving the SP incredible performance statistics.

The plane can stay airborne for over 12 hours and its range is 6,625 nautical miles (7,624 miles). With a service ceiling of 45,000 feet, it can fly above the troposphere and 99.8 percent of the water vapor held in our atmosphere, which obscures infrared light. That gives its on-board infrared telescope a clear view into outer space.

NASA says the data provided by SOFIA "cannot be obtained by any other astronomical facility on the ground or in space." Unlike grounded telescopes and satellites fixed in orbit, SOFIA is mobile, so it can better spot transient space events like supernovae and comets.

The telescope on board is 10 times as sensitive and has triple the resolution of NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory, originally launched in 1975 on a converted C-141 military cargo plane, and decommissioned in 1995. That telescope was the first to spot the rings around Uranus.

The SP that now serves NASA was first flown as a passenger aircraft by Pan Am, which dubbed it the “Clipper Lindbergh.” The failing airline sold the jet to United Airlines in 1986, which in turn passed it on to NASA in 1997.

SOFIA nearly met its end in March, when NASA said it would cut the program's budget unless it found outside funding. In the end, the House budget provided $70 million to keep the plane flying.

Last week, SOFIA landed in Germany for extensive maintenance and refitting. Lufthansa Technik, an aircraft maintenance company, will do the necessary work, which includes replacing the landing gear and running tests to make sure all the onboard systems continue to run properly.

This maintenance overhaul in Germany is the last step in NASA's rollout of SOFIA and scientists plan to run 100 observation flights with her in 2015.


6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere

Earth’s atmosphere blocks most radiation at wavelengths shorter than visible light, so we can only make direct ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma ray observations from space (though indirect gamma ray observations can be made from Earth). Getting above the distorting effects of the atmosphere is also an advantage at visible and infrared wavelengths. The stars don’t “twinkle” in space, so the amount of detail you can observe is limited only by the size of your instrument. On the other hand, it is expensive to place telescopes into space, and repairs can present a major challenge. This is why astronomers continue to build telescopes for use on the ground as well as for launching into space.

Airborne and Space Infrared Telescopes

Water vapor, the main source of atmospheric interference for making infrared observations, is concentrated in the lower part of Earth’s atmosphere. For this reason, a gain of even a few hundred meters in elevation can make an important difference in the quality of an infared observatory site. Given the limitations of high mountains, most of which attract clouds and violent storms, and the fact that the ability of humans to perform complex tasks degrades at high altitudes, it was natural for astronomers to investigate the possibility of observing infrared waves from airplanes and ultimately from space.

Infrared observations from airplanes have been made since the 1960s, starting with a 15-centimeter telescope on board a Learjet. From 1974 through 1995, NASA operated a 0.9-meter airborne telescope flying regularly out of the Ames Research Center south of San Francisco. Observing from an altitude of 12 kilometers, the telescope was above 99% of the atmospheric water vapor. More recently, NASA (in partnership with the German Aerospace Center) has constructed a much larger 2.5-meter telescope, called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which flies in a modified Boeing 747SP (Figure 6.23).

Link to Learning

To find out more about SOFIA, watch this video provided by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

Getting even higher and making observations from space itself have important advantages for infrared astronomy. First is the elimination of all interference from the atmosphere. Equally important is the opportunity to cool the entire optical system of the instrument in order to nearly eliminate infrared radiation from the telescope itself. If we tried to cool a telescope within the atmosphere, it would quickly become coated with condensing water vapor and other gases, making it useless. Only in the vacuum of space can optical elements be cooled to hundreds of degrees below freezing and still remain operational.

The first orbiting infrared observatory, launched in 1983, was the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), built as a joint project by the United States, the Netherlands, and Britain. IRAS was equipped with a 0.6-meter telescope cooled to a temperature of less than 10 K. For the first time, the infrared sky could be seen as if it were night, rather than through a bright foreground of atmospheric and telescope emissions. IRAS carried out a rapid but comprehensive survey of the entire infrared sky over a 10-month period, cataloging about 350,000 sources of infrared radiation. Since then, several other infrared telescopes have operated in space with much better sensitivity and resolution due to improvements in infrared detectors. The most powerful of these infrared telescopes is the 0.85-meter Spitzer Space Telescope, which launched in 2003. A few of its observations are shown in Figure 6.24. With infrared observations, astronomers can detect cooler parts of cosmic objects, such as the dust clouds around star nurseries and the remnants of dying stars, that visible-light images don’t reveal.

Hubble Space Telescope

In April 1990, a great leap forward in astronomy was made with the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). With an aperture of 2.4 meters, this is the largest telescope put into space so far. (Its aperture was limited by the size of the payload bay in the Space Shuttle that served as its launch vehicle.) It was named for Edwin Hubble, the astronomer who discovered the expansion of the universe in the 1920s (whose work we will discuss in the chapters on Galaxies).

HST is operated jointly by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. It was the first orbiting observatory designed to be serviced by Shuttle astronauts and, over the years since it was launched, they made several visits to improve or replace its initial instruments and to repair some of the systems that operate the spacecraft (Figure 6.1)—though this repair program has now been discontinued, and no more visits or improvements will be made.

With the Hubble, astronomers have obtained some of the most detailed images of astronomical objects from the solar system outward to the most distant galaxies. Among its many great achievements is the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, an image of a small region of the sky observed for almost 100 hours. It contains views of about 10,000 galaxies, some of which formed when the universe was just a few percent of its current age (Figure 6.25).

The HST’s mirror was ground and polished to a remarkable degree of accuracy. If we were to scale up its 2.4-meter mirror to the size of the entire continental United States, there would be no hill or valley larger than about 6 centimeters in its smooth surface. Unfortunately, after it was launched, scientists discovered that the primary mirror had a slight error in its shape, equal to roughly 1/50 the width of a human hair. Small as that sounds, it was enough to ensure that much of the light entering the telescope did not come to a clear focus and that all the images were blurry. (In a misplaced effort to save money, a complete test of the optical system had not been carried out before launch, so the error was not discovered until HST was in orbit.)

The solution was to do something very similar to what we do for astronomy students with blurry vision: put corrective optics in front of their eyes. In December 1993, in one of the most exciting and difficult space missions ever flown, astronauts captured the orbiting telescope and brought it back into the shuttle payload bay. There they installed a package containing compensating optics as well as a new, improved camera before releasing HST back into orbit. The telescope now works as it was intended to, and further missions to it were able to install even more advanced instruments to take advantage of its capabilities.

High-Energy Observatories

Ultraviolet, X-ray, and direct gamma-ray (high-energy electromagnetic wave) observations can be made only from space. Such observations first became possible in 1946, with V2 rockets captured from Germany after World War II. The US Naval Research Laboratory put instruments on these rockets for a series of pioneering flights, used initially to detect ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Since then, many other rockets have been launched to make X-ray and ultraviolet observations of the Sun, and later of other celestial objects.

Beginning in the 1960s, a steady stream of high-energy observatories has been launched into orbit to reveal and explore the universe at short wavelengths. Among recent X-ray telescopes is the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched in 1999 (Figure 6.26). It is producing X-ray images with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity. Designing instruments that can collect and focus energetic radiation like X-rays and gamma rays is an enormous technological challenge. The 2002 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Riccardo Giacconi , a pioneer in the field of building and launching sophisticated X-ray instruments. In 2008, NASA launched the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, designed to measure cosmic gamma rays at energies greater than any previous telescope, and thus able to collect radiation from some of the most energetic events in the universe.

One major challenge is to design “mirrors” to reflect such penetrating radiation as X-rays and gamma rays, which normally pass straight through matter. However, although the technical details of design are more complicated, the three basic components of an observing system, as we explained earlier in this chapter, are the same at all wavelengths: a telescope to gather up the radiation, filters or instruments to sort the radiation according to wavelength, and some method of detecting and making a permanent record of the observations. Table 6.4 lists some of the most important active space observatories that humanity has launched.


The 35 Best College Astronomy Observatories

In an effort to both attract and educate the world’s best physicists, astronomers and others, a large number of universities across the country have devoted significant time and effort to creating stunning observatories. Designed to combined the classic observatory with decidedly 21st century design and cutting-edge technology, these facilities are helping to create an entirely new generation of leading astronomers looking to the heavens for new theories, confirmation of older theories, and experiences that will define human interaction with space for decades to come. Our understanding of outer space has improved in recent decades as the technology we use to explore the heavens has consistently, dramatically improved. These 25 college observatories are proof that our facilities, our technology, and even our communities, are the key to better education and a more thorough understanding of what lies beyond earth’s grasp.

Methodology: In ranking the 35 Best College Observatories, we considered the following data points: Number, Size, and Technology of Telescopes Available data on telescopes at each observatory was collected, and observatories were given a score based on the number of telescopes on site and the largest and average sizes of the telescopes, with additional points being scored for diverse or specialized technologies. Altitude High altitude can significantly decrease atmospheric noise. Observatories were scored based on elevation above sea level, with all observatories receiving a normalized score, and some observatories receiving bonus points for elevation above 5000 feet. Weather Using data from Weatherspark.com, each observatory was given a Clear Skies rating, which is the average of the chance of clear skies annually, and the chances of clear skies on the historically most and historically least clear nights of the year Light Pollution Using data provided by the Earth Observation Group, a subset of the National Geophysical Data Center, each observatory was given a rating based on average amounts of light pollution The four main criteria (Telescopes, Altitude, Weather and Light Pollution) were normalized to represent scores on a scale from 1-100 and then weighted equally. Bonus Points Bonus points ranging from 0-10 were given for noteworthy aspects of the observatory and related programs. The most common bonus was awarded to observatories listed on the National Register of Historic Places (3).

35. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics – Harvard University

Harvard’s College Observatory has been in continuous operation since its inception in 1839, making it one of the oldest in the United States and also one of the most prestigious locations for astronomical work anywhere in the country. Though not one of the biggest observatories or one of the largest telescopes, the Harvard College Observatory works through the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to create one of the most community-involved programs in the United States. The observatory has a public “micro-observatory” that Internet users can both browse and control with their web browsers. Regular museum exhibitions, public observatory events, and professional conferences, have taken place at the facility throughout its history.

In addition to providing all of these excellent services to both the Harvard student body and the Cambridge public, the facility is known as the centerpiece of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in physics, astronomy and astrophysics. Its reputation allows Harvard’s programs in these areas to easily be the most selective among any top-tier school in the country.

34. Whitin Observatory – Wellesley College

This small, almost nondescript observatory complex has been expanded three times over the course of its more than 100 years in operation. Build in 1900, the observatory was expanded in 1906, 1967 and 2010. Each time, construction has resulted in more classrooms, larger research labs, and a greater number of telescopes used to observe the sky. A total of three telescopes are used at the observatory, measuring six inches, 12 inches and 24 inches. The 24-inch Boller and Chivens reflector comes with its own DFM control system, making it among the most sophisticated on the east coast. Along with a location free of light pollution, these telescopes and the larger instruction facilities have both allowed Wellesley to become a leading choice for astronomy and physics students.

33. Strawbridge Observatory – Haverford College

Haverford College is one of the leading, private institutions along Pennsylvania’s Main Line. Long associated with high society, the Main Line today is home to some of the best-funded liberal arts colleges in the country. That’s certainly the case at Haverford, which ranks as one of the smallest colleges in the United States to have its own observatory facility. Though Haverford College is located just outside the city of Philadelphia, its location is remote enough that light pollution is a very minimal issue when conducting nightly observations.

The Strawbridge Observatory features 12-inch and 16-inch telescopes. Primarily used by undergraduate students in the school’s astronomy courses, these telescopes are made available to the public on limited occasions throughout the year. Haverford’s teaching assistants and professors show the public how to properly use the telescopes to scan the night sky in search of galaxies, planets, and more. Other events include public talks, conferences, and tours of the facility. Haverford’s observatory, it should be noted, was specifically designed to fit into the gothic, slate-tile that has made the school the setting for numerous television shows and major motion pictures. It’s certainly a sight to behold.

32. Dudley Observatory – Union College

Though it’s now considered part of New York’s Union College, the Dudley Observatory was established in 1852 as an entirely independent way to monitor the night skies. It was, in fact, the first such independent observatory established in the United States. Today, the observatory remains associated with Union College but still allows access to independent astronomers, astrophysicists and researchers who have an academic use for the observatory’s telescopes. Students engage in astronomical research and observation here as well, as part of either their Union College core curriculum or as part of the school’s physics program.

The Dudley Observatory, with its Georgian design and red brick exterior, is widely regarded nationwide as one of the most aesthetically stunning facilities in the country. Inside the building, the powerful telescopes installed have allowed Calvin and Union College students to find and name a series of previously unseen stars and celestial bodies. That makes this particular observatory one of the most productive in the northeastern United States.

31. Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium – Butler University

Butler University’s observatory was originally situated on the east side of Indianapolis, but was later moved to the north side of the city for better visibility. The original observatory facility was subsequently torn down, but the 38-inch telescope remained. In fact, that same telescope remains today and regularly conducts sweeping observation of the night sky on behalf of Butler students, faculty, and post-doctoral fellows. Refurbished as recently as 1995, the telescope is among the largest in the Midwest and has helped both students and professors make exciting discoveries that benefitted the broader astronomy community as a whole. Holcomb’s structure features research labs, classrooms, and lecture halls, with a stunning and open exterior design that makes the observatory feel like a cam

30. Texas A&M Astronomical Observatory

The Texas A&M University is actually a rather small observatory, which might make it seem less impressive than its competition across the country. Even so, the A&M Observatory is a relatively new addition to campus life and is actually one of the most exciting parts about being a science student at the university. Its more recent construction means that the observatory was simply designed to be used as a connected, high-tech center of astronomical research. It features full, gigabit Internet connectivity and relies on powerful computers that can conduct complex processing of recorded images and radio sounds. This makes the observatory more able to easily detect new stars or planetary bodies.

Its small footprint on the outside gives way to research labs, student facilities, and a panoramic observation window. The public is invited for occasional facility tours and lectures throughout the year, giving the observatory a community connection that is changing the way College Station residents interact with one of Texas’ largest and most prestigious academic centers.

29. Montgomery College Astronomical Observatory

Located in Rockville, Maryland, the Montgomery College Observatory has long been a fixture in Washington DC area. The structure is the center of activity for general education students enrolled in the university’s astronomy course, as well as for those taking more advanced physics or astronomy coursework on the Maryland campus. Montgomery College maintains a public events calendar as well, giving local residents the opportunity to visit the observatory during meteor showers, special celestial events, or simply to gaze into the heavens and enjoy whichever sights might await them.

To provide superior educational experiences to students and local residents alike, the Montgomery College Observatory leverages the power of two 15-inch Celestron telescopes, three 8-inch Celestron telescopes, and a traditional sliding-roof structure that allows for maximum visibility. The college also offers rooftop observation space suitable for smaller, tripod-mounted telescopes that both students and locals routinely take advantage of on clear nights.

28. Allegheny Observatory – University of Pittsburgh

One of the most important research institutions in the world, Allegheny Observatory, lies a few miles outside Pittsburgh in Riverview Park. The facility is used to instruct various aspects of astronomy offered by the University of Pittsburgh, but its primary function is to trail blaze pure research. Undergraduate and graduate students alike have access to the telescopes and other equipment at the facility. The observatory has always felt obligated to share its wonders with the public at large. Observations and illustrated lectures are prepared for anyone who is interested, but the facilities are private research laboratories and not open to the public except for the tour program. The public park does not have any jurisdictional bearing on the grounds or the building.

27. Class of 1951 Vassar College Observatory

Vassar College’s Class of 1951 Vassar College Observatory is not the institution’s first facility for gazing into outer space. Indeed, an older observatory once served students at this upstate New York college until a generous donation made on behalf of the 1951 graduating class allowed for building a newer, more powerful observatory more in line with modern goals and research techniques. The new facility serves as an educational resource for the campus’ astronomy and physics students. A series of domed rooms house everything from offices and classrooms to more traditional observatories. Each observatory features either a 32-inch or 20-inch telescope, which makes them among the largest in this particular region of the country.

One of the most striking features of the observatory is its exterior design. The facility is almost entirely made of low-thermal-weight aluminum. This was deemed an absolute requirement by the observatory’s builders, in order to reduce the amount of heat withheld and absorbed by the structure. Thanks to this innovative design, telescopes are kept at lower temperatures and are therefore safeguarded from significant, heat-related damage during operation or throughout the summer months.

26. Space Science Center – Morehead State University

This center focuses on nanosatellite technologies, like satellites weighing less than a kg per unit. Microelectronics and Nanotechnologies provide inexpensive development of these tiny, highly functional satellites (cube sats) at Morehead State for the U.S. Dept. of Defense, other universities, and aerospace companies like NASA to use. These smaller than a bread box satellites are used for research and tactical defense from beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The University offers excellent educational opportunities for its students and student visitors in grades K – 12. The Star Theater is open to the public one weekend a month for an educational program, a tour of the night sky, and a dazzling display of a laser show to rival a Pink Floyd concert. Unfortunately, it is not the same access that is allowed faculty and researching staff.

25. Rosemary Hill Observatory – University of Florida

Known as RHO, the Rosemary Hill Observatory is operated by the University of Florida and designed for scholarly research by doctoral students, faculty, and independent residents. RHO was strategically located just over 20 miles south of Gainesville, where it was free from light pollution and able to enjoy a clearer picture of the night sky. The facility features an array of research labs with high-tech connectivity, and offers several public observation and touring events throughout the year. Rosemary Hill has become an icon of the University of Florida science departments since its 1967 inception and is a strong selling point for students who aim to study the stars, physics, or related pursuits.

24. Hopkins Observatory – Williams College

Williams College claims to be the host of America’s oldest observatory. The facility now known as the Hopkins Observatory was built in 1838, after the facility’s namesake found Albert Hopkins went to England in search of astronomical equipment to install in a forthcoming building on the campus. According to the school’s historical record, Hopkins returned with the equipment he sought and then worked alongside his students to build the facility between 1836 and 1838. Since then, the facility has been in near-constant use as part of the school’s physics and astronomy programs. Due to its nearly 200 years in operation, the Hopkins Observatory looks more like a colonial New England meetinghouse than a modern observatory.

The Hopkins Observatory at Williams College is not a state-of-the-art facility any longer, but is still host to a 7-inch telescope that was fully restored during the 20th century. The observatory’s classrooms remain partially intact, though many side rooms have been removed in order to accommodate the school’s Mehlin Museum of Astronomy. The facility is open to the public for tours and museum exhibitions throughout the year and serves as a limited instructional facility for Williams students during the academic year as well.

23. US Naval Academy Observatory

Though the US Naval Academy Observatory is certainly a great addition to the academic tools available to students and professors, this particular facility has a far greater responsibility than teaching students about the basics of astronomical observation and detection. In fact, the observatory is closely aligned with the Department of Defense and is charged with providing correct “astronomical time” to U.S. Armed Forces around the world.

The observatory is also a center of government research and coordination, used to study a select set of planetary and other celestial bodies on an ongoing basis. With funding from the USNA and from the Department of Defense, the observatory enjoys some of the best technological instruments available at any facility in the country. It has also been at the center of several major star and planetary discoveries since its inception as a result of added focus and high levels of year-round staffing.

22. Haystack Observatory – MIT

Research programs at this facility focus on the most profound areas of inquiry in the field of astronomy, the origin, progression, and evolution of the universe, and unexplained phenomena in the known and unknown universe. The sun’s effect on the Earth is explored, as well as the activity of other stars that are born and have died. Radio astronomy investigates assumptions about the Milky Way, as a possibility of a black hole at its center. Such answers could explain the fundamental problems about the universe’s origin. The equipment at the observatory comprises radio array telescopes and huge and sensitive antennas, some of which are utilized by the high school and undergraduate students. The university’s dedication to education supports public interaction by hosting numerous open houses and tours for school groups.

21. Dyer Observatory – Vanderbilt University

This Brentwood-based observatory is the only Vanderbilt University facility not located on the school’s Nashville campus. Its remote location removes light pollution as an issue and focuses primarily on the stars. Students in undergraduate and graduate programs routinely visit the observatory to conduct homework and independent research, while university faculty and doctoral fellows use the observatory’s large telescope to conduct their own research. The Dyer Observatory has discovered several stars in its 61-year history, and has led to several professors being published for their new discoveries as a result.

20. Rankin Science Observatory – Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University’s Dark Sky Observatory is home to GoTo Lab, which has seen the transition of the college programs from the Rankin Science Center. The new, state-of-the art facility is home to a 40’x60′ observing area has 18 concrete telescope piers. The facility boasts a roll-back roof for primte-time viewing and to accommodate the Celestron CPC-1100 telescopes, which stay in place nightly. According to the school run website, the facility was also constructed as a source for outreach, hosting summer astronomy camps, teacher workshops and elementary-high school programming. The former center, Rankin Science Center is still used as a teaching facility, primarily for advanced undergraduate studies

19. Bradley Observatory – Agnes Scott College

Agnes Scott College dedicated and opened its Bradley Observatory in 1950, in a Georgian-style building that blends in perfectly with the university’s historical aesthetic. Since its inception, the observatory has been a hub of activity for educational and independent research. The facility also hosts astronomy students on a regular basis as they seek to pair classroom theory with real-life discovery and celestial observation.

In addition to being listed on the National Register of Historical Places for its design and backstory, the facility plays host to a vintage, 1930s telescope, known as the Beck Telescope, that was once the largest in the southeastern part of the country. This telescope, and the other facilities contained within the observatory, are made available to the public throughout the year for tours and lectures.

18. The Charles W. Brown Planetarium – Ball State

Students at Ball State have long enjoyed access to the Ball State University Observatory, which plays host to five telescopes. The largest and most effective of these is the 16-inch Meade LX200 telescope, which offers an unparalleled view of the night sky and allows students to actually make their own, independent discovery of new stars and other bodies. The observatory sits within the Ball State science center, and is made widely available to astronomy students, those enrolled in a physics programs, or other students who sign up for allotted time to use the telescopes with the assistance of a professor or graduate teaching assistant. Public tours are made available on a regular basis, with limited speaking engagements and nighttime observation opportunities opened to the surrounding community occasionally throughout the year.

17. Yerkes Observatory – University of Chicago

The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago established the institution’s Yerkes Observatory in 1897 in order to further the school’s commitment to astronomy and physics education. Though the University of Chicago enjoys a central location in the city, the observatory’s site was placed in southeastern Wisconsin on 77 acres of partially wooded, park-like land. The goal of this placement was to move the observatory as far away as possible from the light pollution that Chicago’s urban setting contributed.

In addition to being open to the public for guided tours each Saturday throughout the year, and playing host to special group programs and events, the observatory is critical to the University of Chicago’s academic programs. It serves as a hub of classrooms, research labs, and observation work, which is integrated into undergraduate, graduate-level, and doctoral curriculum in astronomy, physics, and astrophysics. Its historical nature and unique location make it a signature experience for students in these programs.

16. Chamberlin Observatory – University of Denver

The Chamberlin Observatory feels almost like a palace dedicated to the grandeur of the galaxy. The University of Denver facility was built during the late 19th century, primarily as a research and instructional facility as the American study of astronomy was entering a period of sustained popularity. In order to give the study of astronomy a fitting dedication, the university constructed Chamberlin in Romanesque style with red sandstone blocks. Today, the observatory dome gleams in the sunlight as the red sandstone offers an academic exterior to all who enter.

Inside the observatory, University of Denver researchers engaging in nightly observation and ongoing research into the cosmos. Students use the facility on occasion, largely to complement on-campus studies of astronomy of introductory astrophysics. All observation is conducted using a 20-inch telescope that is among the largest in the western part of the United States. This telescope is capable of seeing quite far into space, and has allowed students to discover dozens of new stars over the course of its more than 100 years in operation.

15. Perkins Observatory – Ohio Wesleyan University

Hiram Perkins graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1857, just nine years after the university admitted its first undergraduate class. For the rest of his life, he would take on numerous roles in the university community as a professor, an activist, and the leading force behind the design, development, and construction of the observatory that would be named in his honor. The Perkins Observatory was first considered in the 1860s, but took until 1923 to begin construction. By that time, now-Professor Perkins was in his early 90s. Perkins lived through much of the building’s construction, offering tips and making stipulations about the installation of certain features, classrooms, or materials.

Today, the Perkins Observatory is a major instructional center for Ohio Wesleyan University, with several lecture halls and smaller classrooms. Research facilities exist throughout the observatory’s structure, and nightly observation of the sky furthers the university’s commitment to driving astronomy forward.

14. Sommers-Bausch Observatory – University of Colorado, Boulder

The Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at UC Boulder received a generous donation from the estate of Mayme Sommers, who elected for the money to be donated to the university in honor of her husband on the condition that the funds be used to construct an observatory. The resulting facility was completed in 1953 and has been in continuous operation ever since. University of Colorado at Boulder students use the observatory for work at the undergraduate and graduate levels, assisting with research and learning in-depth information in astronomy courses. Public tours are given on a daily basis, with occasional even stargazing also made available on limited occasions. The observatory’s spacious interior is complimented by a stunning, brick exterior design that blends into the broader campus aesthetic and makes the observatory a natural fit for this fast-growing Colorado institution.

13. Lick Observatory – University of California, Santa Cruz

Astronomers from all eight campuses of the University of California network utilize this facility. Once moving the facility became impossible, nearby municipalities took measures to restrict the effects of light pollution affecting the telescopes’ abilities. As recently as 2013, Key funding for the facility was threatened, and the University of California system took over its support. The observatory is important as many discoveries were made on the premises such as several moons of Jupiter, several multiple planet systems, and several extrasolar planets. Currently, several telescopes and reflectors are used at the facility. This observatory is a lot more user-friendly than most, observing regular visiting hours, a gift shop, and exhibits however, all night activity is reserved for faculty and students to observe the skies in peace.

12. Mount Laguna Observatory – San Diego State University

At 6,100 feet above sea level, the Mount Laguna Observatory is located just outside of the Cleveland National Forest. It is well out of the reach of interfering artificial light, and chances are highly favorable for great star gazing weather at one of the best sights in the continental US. The facility is home to four telescopes, which range from 0.5 m to 1.25 m and are used for research by faculty and students of the University. The city of San Diego and surrounding settlements observe ordinances restricting light that can contaminate the quality of observation from the facility. Tours begin at the visitor’s center, and allow limited access to the telescopes. It is one of ideal observatories in the country thanks to its uncorrupted dark atmosphere.

11. Owens Valley Radio Observatory – California Institute of Technology

“The Big Ears,” as this observatory is known to the local population, is one of the largest radio observatories in the world that is operated by a university. Several diverse telescopes are operated by Caltech to perform experiments in various areas of research from blazer jet physics to cosmic microwaves. The densities of over 1400 blazers, as well as gamma radiation, are currently being monitored by university faculty and grad students. A new broadband receiver will improve the telescope’s sensitivity enabling measurement of radiation polarization. The combined efforts of three telescopes employ cutting edge research of long duration transients. Public access is granted in the form of an annual open house, classroom activities, a monthly lecture series, and public observing nights.

10. West Mountain Observatory – Brigham Young University

Utah’s Brigham Young University is home to the West Mountain Observatory, located atop West Mountain at an elevation of 6,960 feet. This elevation allows the observatory to escape the light conflicts of BYU’s immediate community, giving it unfettered access to the western night sky. As a result of its prime, remote, and high-altitude location, WMO is a popular destination for traveling astronomical researchers and doctoral fellows. The observatory also gets limited use by students, and occasionally opens its doors to public tours, scholarly lectures, and nighttime observation of meteor showers or other unique events. The aluminum-clad facility houses 12-inch, 20-inch, and 35-inch telescopes designed for optimal viewing of stars, planets, galaxies, and limited solar activity.

9. Palomar Observatory – California Institute of Technology

Caltech as long been part of a partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, but the school also operates its own facility on Palomar Mountain in California. Like the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory, this location was chosen to reduce or eliminate light pollution and make it far easier to observe the night sky. Palomar Observatory hosts five different telescopes to maximize visibility of celestial bodies, and is home to several classrooms and a large number of research labs. Students in astronomy and physics programs assist with research at Palomar, as do university faculty members and an elite group of post-doctoral fellows.

Palomar Observatory’s five telescopes and numerous high-tech implements are not closed off to the public, however. Caltech opens the observatory to public, daytime tours almost every day of the year. The observatory closes only for major holidays, like Christmas. On other days, the public can see research and observation work in progress as they learn about the telescopes and other tech installations that make the facility possible.

8. Prescott Observatory Complex – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is perhaps the one school that most deserves its own observatory. The institution is among the most prestigious in the United States when it comes to educating astrophysicists, highly skilled astronomers, and even aspiring astronauts. The Prescott Observatory Complex, located in Prescott, AZ, away from light pollution, provides students and professors with the views they need of the night sky. It does so by using both optical and radio telescopes, measuring between 12 and 14 inches in diameter. A separate Radio Observatory listens for signals and noises that might indicate the presence of certain objects in the sky imperceptible through the use of telescopes on their own.

The facility is heavily used by students and professors, many of whom engage in nightly observation and routine research. Several lecture halls and classrooms add to the educational experience enjoyed by Embry-Riddle students as well. Though it’s primarily an academic facility, the Prescott Observatory Complex does host limited amounts of public event time throughout the year. Most of these events involve daytime observatory tours, technological demonstrations, and occasional nighttime observation of celestial phenomenon like comets, meteor showers, and planetary interactions.

7. W. M. Keck Observatory – California Institute of Technology and University of California

The Keck Observatory is jointly operated by Cal Tech and the University of California, but it’s not a California observatory. In fact, this stunning facility is located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. To provide a superior viewing experience to Hawaiian locals and students at numerous Hawaii universities, the observatory leverages dual telescopes. Each of these telescopes is a whopping eight stories tall, weighs as much as 300 tons, and can operate with a single nanometer of precision when scanning the night sky. The two dueling telescopes represent one optical and one infrared model, which means increased clarity for students, scientists, and local observers.

In addition to founding partners Cal Tech and the University of California, this observatory counts NASA as a one-sixth partner that helps to fund and operate the facility throughout the year. A group called the “Fans of Keck Observatory” routinely uses the facility to view the skies during special events, while helping to financially support the observatory and fundraise on its behalf.

6. Capilla Peak Observatory – University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico’s Capilla Peak Observatory is operated and funded by the university’s Department of Physics of Astronomy. Primarily used by students enrolled in the university’s physics and astronomy programs, Capilla Peak regularly opens its doors to the public for what the university call its “Friday public viewings.” Members of the community, and nearby Albuquerque, are invited to visit the observatory each Friday evening to see whichever stars, galaxies, planets, and other objects happen to be in the path of Capilla’s 14-inch Meade LX200GPS telescope. The university also makes Capilla Peak open to group events, as long as those groups call the university in advance to make the appropriate arrangements. Though rather standard in an appearance on the exterior, the observatory’s interior is spacious enough for groups of moderate size, and easily accommodates the public each Friday night in larger numbers.

5. Big Bear Solar Observatory – New Jersey Institute of Technology (California)

Originally build by the California Institute of Technology in 1969, the Big Bear Solar Observatory is now owned and operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. BBSO, as the facility is known, is not a traditional observatory. Instead, the structure was built with the primary goal of monitoring the sun and studying how it interacts with the planets in our solar system. While three independent telescopes once monitored the sun and observed solar activity, the university replaced those three telescopes in 2007 with a Georgian telescope.

The new telescope is a clear aperture open frame, off-axis design, in line with cutting-edge technologies. Its greater amount of power allows it to perform an even wider array of tasks than the three older telescopes previously used. BBSO also recently expanded its central observation and instruction area to accommodate a greater level of research and educational activity. Together with its stunning Big Bear Lake location, this observatory is a California landmark and the crown jewel of the NJIT astronomy program.

4. Mount Graham International Observatory – University of Arizona

The facility is connected to the University of Arizona through the Steward Observatory and is used by professionals from around the world. The Observatory is a part of the Coronado National Forest in the Pinaleno Mountains of Arizona. Three telescopes provide insight to the Milky Way and even more distant galaxies. The Large Binocular Telescope gathers an enormous amount of light that enables the collection of far-reaching data. The facility hosts a visitor’s center that coordinates weekend tours from the middle of May through October. Reservations are required due to the endangered status of the red squirrel. The tours are quite inclusive and feature access to the mountain, walking lecture, lunch close to the summit, and limited access to the telescopes.

3. McDonald Observatory – University of Texas at Austin

The observatory is located in West Texas in the Davis Mountains, 450 miles distance from Austin. This observatory utilizes four research telescopes, conducting a first and most useful lunar ranging station. Two of the most significant are the 9.2m Hobby-Eberly and the 2.7mHarlan J. Smith. The former was built specifically to collect enormous amounts of light and is the fourth largest optical telescope in the world with a largest mirror to date measuring 11.1 x 9.8 meters. It is being modified to expand its usage to explore the early universe and expose its rate of expansion. The latter is a Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment telescope, one of only four globally networked. The public is welcome to participate in exhibits, star parties, and educational programs the first ever wheelchair accessible telescope is also available.

2. Apache Point – New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University operates the facility located in the Sacramento Mountains. The four telescopes found there range in sizes from 0.5 m to 3.5 m and are capable of a wide field, optical, and infrared imaging spectroscopy and photometry. All of the telescopes, except the smallest, contain a Ritchey-Chretien reflector set on an alt-azimuth mount, ideal for deep-sky imaging. The observatory is owned by a consortium of several universities across the country, including New Mexico State, but New Mexico State University operates and manages it for the group. The first digital map of the heavens was mapped here, including a layout of The Milky Way. Only graduate students and Astronomy faculty access the observatory for purposes of research, but a digital archive of the sky is available to the public.

1. Haleakala Observatory – University of Hawaii

Dedicated astrophysicists have been conducting experiments at the facility for more than 40 years. This observatory provides singular opportunities for research and collection of data that are not possible anywhere else on the planet. The climate supports the best weather conditions for observing celestial phenomena, and the observatory is managed by several agencies and organizations including NASA and the Air Force. The most powerful solar telescope lies in Haleakala Crater, making it the top of the list of ground-based solar observatories. The primary mirror (4 m) supports clarity of 0.03 arc seconds and affords observation and experimentation of the sun that consistently reveals new information. The observatories are off limits to the general public but does host public lectures and events at the research center.


Shorbulak Observatory

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An abandoned Soviet observatory on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in Tajikistan sounds inviting, no? Shorbulak Observatory, once the site of challenging astronomical observations, stands as a remnant of the former Soviet Union.

Located some 4,350 meters (14,200 feet) above sea level, this remote site in the Pamir mountains was perfect for an observatory. The dry climate made it an ideal spot to study submillimeter-wavelength astronomy. Observing these incredibly short wavelengths can be especially challenging because water in the atmosphere can interfere with measurements. Land-based observatories that can study this type of astronomy must be located at dry, cool sites with stable weather conditions located far from dense population. Other sites include Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in Chile, the South Pole, and Hanle in India.

Shorbulak was an outpost of the Pulkovo Observatory—officially known as the Central Astronomical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences at Pulkovo. It was one of several offshoots of Pulkovo Observatory, with others located in Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus Mountains, Chile, and Bolivia. In the 1980s, the observatory was run by Russian astrophysicist Kirill Maslennikov.

Though it is no longer active, Shorbulak Observatory still stands in its location in the Pamirs. But reaching it is no easy feat. First you must get to the Pamir Highway, the second highest altitude highway in the world. Heading south of the city of Murgab, you must get off the beaten path for a good piece of land and sandy roads. It takes a while, but as soon as you get there you are rewarded with the site of an abandoned Soviet village, old trucks, warehouses, and the empty observatory right over the hill.

Know Before You Go

It is possible to visit the village and see the outside of the observatory, but the building itself is private property. Please be respectful of the laws and posted signs. Be aware that a 4x4 vehicle is advisable, since is an off-road environment.


What dark site do you use?

There are several threads going now about the pro's and con's of using a true dark site to observe. The pro's are obvious: pristine skies to observe under. The con's are numerous: To far to drive. To remote to feel safe. Etc.

My question is to help folks that are looking for a dark site but cannot seem to find a place to go. I'm not talking about your near suburban club site or a "nice" place just 30 minutes from Chicago. I'm also not talking about utterly remote sites with no amenities. The idea is dark skies, say Bortle 2 or better, near civilization and safe to observe.

The Prude Ranch (and nearby other sites) in west Texas. Many know it from TSP. Cheap, clean rooms. Many rooms are facing away from the bulk of the facility and are fairly well shielded from lights. External lights can usually be turned off with the Staff's blessing.

Leakey, Tx area. 100miles west of San Antonio. This area is used for tubing on the Frio river. Many of the cabin sites go unused during the off season and can be rented for a pretty good price. Garner State park is only 10 or so miles away. This site is bordering on Bortle 3 but is still quite dark.

How about your favorite places?

#2 havasman

I still mostly use the club dark site in SE Oklahoma. It averages @ 21.35 with my SQM-L over @ 5 years. But readings lately are 21.26/21.30 and there's been a growing light dome to the SE where the darkest sky used to be located, not to mention the on-site LP.

So I'm heading down toward Terlingua, site of some of my old pre-astronomy mis-adventures, to an AB&B. Then checking out Local Chapter near Big Bend Nat'l Park this summer and migrating toward Ft Davis and Prude.

#3 pyrasanth

Totally none at all. My C14 lives in my back garden and the whole assembly is just to bulky to move- I'm Bortle 7 at best and I can't see it getting much better however we do have big city air pollution restrictions kicking shortly so I might get a knock on effect from that.

#4 MikeTahtib

The best one I go to is Acadia National Park in Maine. Probalby a Bortle 3, with plenty of nice accomodations close by. People regularly walking thru at night, but you have to put up with the ocasional car with lights on.

#5 Bill Weir

First place is here. An observatory on a hill above a small international high school. I have a key to the gate because in non COVID times I help with their astronomy program. I’m on the southern tip of Vancouver Island Canada, while those mountains are the Olympic Mountain in NW Washington State. Below me is also a small marina with it’s accompanying lighting. 40km to the ENE is the City of Victoria. SQM readings 21.2-21.36. It’s about a 5minute drive from my house.

The other site is a bit closer with a better view to the West, East and North but is more affected by light from the city, plus it can be prone to extreme wind. I’m talking the type of wind that has destroyed tents.

There are other much darker places on the island but not as easy to get to plus micro climates make what it will be like when you get there unpredictable.

Oh at either place there can be visitors. Bears and cougars are regularly seen even on my street. This is at the observatory.

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#6 pyrasanth

Glad you invited the Bear to the party. At least it looks like you did not have to grab a 17 year girl to beat it up!

#7 Keith Rivich

Glad you invited the Bear to the party. At least it looks like you did not have to grab a 17 year girl to beat it up!

I saw that! This bear looks to be a tad bit bigger.

#8 Keith Rivich

First place is here. An observatory on a hill above a small international high school. I have a key to the gate because in non COVID times I help with their astronomy program. I’m on the southern tip of Vancouver Island Canada, while those mountains are the Olympic Mountain in NW Washington State. Below me is also a small marina with it’s accompanying lighting. 40km to the ENE is the City of Victoria. SQM readings 21.2-21.36. It’s about a 5minute drive from my house.

The other site is a bit closer with a better view to the West, East and North but is more affected by light from the city, plus it can be prone to extreme wind. I’m talking the type of wind that has destroyed tents.

There are other much darker places on the island but not as easy to get to plus micro climates make what it will be like when you get there unpredictable.

Oh at either place there can be visitors. Bears and cougars are regularly seen even on my street. This is at the observatory.

Bill

Looks like a great place to observe!

#9 rhetfield

The idea is dark skies, say Bortle 2 or better, near civilization and safe to observe.

I am an hour outside of Chicago and still a bortle 8 or worse. There is no bortle 2 anywhere in the state, let alone near civilization. The nearest is probably along the Canadian border - about a 10-12 hour drive. It will be remote with no amenities and animals that could (but probably won't) eat you.

#10 gwlee

I usually just observe at my rural mountain home with occasional, Summer solo trips deeper into the nearby National Forest and Designated Wilderness Areas. For example, yesterday afternoon, I was day hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail at 10,000 feet in the Emigrants Wilderness and planning to do some binocular stargazing when the weather turned bad, so I returned to my home at 4,300 feet and observed from my deck instead where it’s about Bortle 3-4.

I have a found a few isolated campsites deep in the National Forest between 5,500 and 6,500 feet that I use for occasional overnight trips. The Winter weather usually blocks vehicular access to the high county from about the 3rd week week in October to Memorial Day though, and I get snow at 4,300 feet.

#11 Keith Rivich

I am an hour outside of Chicago and still a bortle 8 or worse. There is no bortle 2 anywhere in the state, let alone near civilization. The nearest is probably along the Canadian border - about a 10-12 hour drive. It will be remote with no amenities and animals that could (but probably won't) eat you.

My trip to Fort Davis is a solid 9 hour drive. Done it so many times I consider it an easy day drive.

From Chicago isn't Nebraska or the Dakotas an easy day drive? There has to be B3 or better at some reasonable locations. Anyone live out there?

#12 Tempus

rhetfield, depending on where in the Chicago area you are you may be able to get to a Bortle 2 area in less than 5 hours by heading to Deer Ridge Conservation Area in Williamstown Missouri. Not really that close I know but better than a 12 hour drive to the border!

#13 Deep13

I drive about 90 minutes to the club dark site in northeast Ohio. There's no low-level light pollution, but the sky still isn't great. The Milky Way is barely visible. On new moons in the summer, I sometimes go to Cherry Springs park in PA, which is an astronomy park. That's not quite a six hour drive. It's very dark there, but the weather is variable.

#14 Keith Rivich

I drive about 90 minutes to the club dark site in northeast Ohio. There's no low-level light pollution, but the sky still isn't great. The Milky Way is barely visible. On new moons in the summer, I sometimes go to Cherry Springs park in PA, which is an astronomy park. That's not quite a six hour drive. It's very dark there, but the weather is variable.

What's it like at Cherry Springs? Decent skies? Accommodations? What would one have to do to observe there?

#15 Deep13

What's it like at Cherry Springs? Decent skies? Accommodations? What would one have to do to observe there?

When the weather cooperates, the sky is incredible. The Milky Way looks like it was painted with a roller brush. On one excellent night about 17 years ago, I could see M13 and M92 naked eye.

The observing site has primitive camping, meaning there are no camper hook-up facilities. Honestly, I usually just wait for dawn and then stay at the Millstream Inn in town. There is electricity for astronomy equipment. The site is a large field on top of a 2000' hill. There is a rest room with running water. The hill is located in a forest and there are no major highways near it (which is what makes it a long drive from my house). It can get chilly there at night in summer, cold in Sept. and Oct.

Twice per year there is a major star party. The Cherry Springs SP is in June (cancelled this year) and the Black Forest SP is at the end of the summer. Both events require preregistration and usually cap attendance at around 400 observers. Or one can park across the street and wander around looking through other people's scopes. During the star parties there are extra portable toilets and a food service that operates until about 1 a.m.

When there is no star party, one just shows up during daylight and sets up wherever he wants. I think it is about $15 per night to stay there. One puts the money in a supplied envelope and drops it in a metal container near the entrance.


Introduction to Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) ☆

Since the century discovery of cosmic ray, the origin of cosmic ray is always a mystery. The study on the origin of high-energy cosmic ray is in an interdiscipline between the very high-energy (VHE) gamma-ray astronomy and the cosmic ray physics. The Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) is a unique and new generation cosmic-ray station with the advantages of high altitude, all-weather, and large-scale. It takes the function of hybrid technology to detect cosmic rays and to upgrade greatly the resolving power between gamma rays and cosmic rays. The LHAASO is expected to make the full-sky survey to find new gamma-ray sources, to obtain the highest sensitivity of gamma-ray detection at the high energy band of > 30 TeV, and to make the very high precision measurement on the component energy spectra of cosmic rays in a broad energy range of 5 orders of magnitude, in order to provide the evidence for revealing the mystery of the origin of cosmic ray. This paper describes the detector structure, performance superiority and scientific motivation of the LHAASO.


Onizuka Center for International Astronomy

Astronomers and technicians must acclimatize when coming from sea level to work at the summit. For this reason, "mid-level" facilities are provided at an altitude of 2,800 meters (9,300 ft). These facilities were constructed in 1982 and have been named in honor of Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut from the Big Island who died in the 1986 Challenger disaster.

The Onizuka Center also includes a Visitor Information Station which is open to the public. It contains exhibits about the mountain and its observatories, offers evening sky-viewing opportunities, and provides guided tours of the summit.