Amazing Observatories Around the World

Come from: 2014/04/16

If Cosmos has piqued your interest in the stars, then you need to add one of these incredible observatories to your bucket list. Perched upon mountaintops and even volcanoes, these high-tech towers are perfect for studying the heavens from behind a telescope.


Antofagasta, Chile

Chile has become a hotspot for the science, and there are at least a dozen observatories—at various levels of tourist-friendliness—working within the country's borders. Operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), Paranal is open to weekend visitors, who come to see the simply named Very Large Telescope (VLT). The VLT is actually comprised of four smaller telescopes—named Antu, Kueyen, Melipal, Yepun, meaning Sun, Moon, Southern Cross, and Venus in the indigenous Mapuche language—which can be used in tandem to create an interferometer that allows astronomers to see details up to 25 times finer than they could with individual telescopes.

Visit: Free, guided tours are offered on Saturdays at 10 am and 2 pm. There is no charge, but reservations are required.



Atacama Desert, Chile
Like Paranal, La Silla is an ESO-operated observatory in Chile. Its perch high on the La Silla mountaintop, nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, means the location is free of light pollution, and it also boasts good weather 300 days per year—conditions perfect for stargazing. The ESO hosts a collection of telescopes at La Silla, but one of the most famous is the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, which is constantly on the hunt for extrasolar planets.

Visit: Free, guided tours are offered on Saturdays at 2 pm. There is no charge, but reservations are required. Tours are not offered in July and August, due to the possibility of snowstorms.



Sutherland, South Africa
The South African Astronomical Observatory is home to the South African Large Telescope—or SALT—the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. It's so powerful that it can detect objects that are a billion times too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Visitors can tour the observatory by day, or head back after sundown, when they can get a look at the night sky through two dedicated visitor telescopes. Unfortunately, though, visitors can't have access to the research telescopes at night—the lights from their cars would block the view.

Visit: Full, guided tours through select research telescopes and the SALT take place Monday to Saturday from 10:30 am until 2:30 pm. Shorter, more basic tours of the SALT take place Saturdays, every hour on the hour, between 8 am and 3 pm. Night tours, which last 90 minutes, take place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Advance reservations are required for all tours.



La Palma, Spain
Spain's Canary Islands take great pride in their astronomy-friendly atmospheric conditions—so much so that they have laws, nicknamed "Sky Laws," to preserve the excellent sky quality. As a result, more than 60 scientific institutions from 17 different countries have come to observe at the fleet of telescopes stationed there—one of the most extensive in the world. The Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, perched on the edge of a caldera nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, is home to many sophisticated telescopes, including the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope, the largest solar telescope in Europe.

Visit: Tours take place on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and must be booked in advance online.



Sydney, Australia
From its spot atop Observatory Hill, the historic copper-domed Sydney Observatory is not only positioned to get a clear image of the night sky, it has a great view of Sydney Harbor. Inside, it operates as a planetarium and museum, housing a wealth of astronomy, meteorology, and timekeeping equipment. After you've finished browsing by day, return at night and reserve time with one of two of the Observatory's telescopes. The first is a computer-controlled reflecting telescope, while the second, an 1874 refracting telescope, is the oldest working telescope in Australia.

Visit: The Observatory is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily. Nighttime sessions can be reserved in advance online.



Hawaii, United States
At the 14,000 feet above sea level on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, there are clear skies 90 percent of the year, making the volcanic mountain attractive to astronomers. It's no wonder, then, that 11 countries have set up shop there, making it home base for some of the biggest telescopes in the world. For visitors who don't want to deal with the altitude sickness at the top, below the summit—but still at an impressive 9,300 feet above sea level—there's the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station. There, you can find telescopes available for public use—including a solar telescope, fitted with protective filters, that'll let you actually stare at the sun. (Take that, Mom.) The Visitor Information Station also hosts free nightly stargazing programs.

Visit: The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station is open every day from 9 am until 10 pm. There are tours to the observatories at the summit every Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm, but visitors must provide their own 4-wheel-drive vehicle with low range to participate in the tour.



Wisconsin, U.S.A.
The University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory may not have the most high-powered telescopes, but its contributions to science are significant nonetheless. The observatory was founded in the late 1800s by George Ellery Hale, who was one of the first to believe that observatories, instead of housing just a telescope and observer, should also include laboratories devoted to physics and chemistry—the result gave the Yerkes Observatory the nickname "the birthplace of modern astrophysics." The observatory is home to a 40-inch refractor, which is still one of the largest of its kind. The outside is notable as well: The building was designed by Henry Ives Cobb—who decorated the exterior with the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon, among other ornamentation—and the grounds were designed by John Olmsted, brother of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed desingner of New York City's Central Park.

Visit: Free, guided tours are offered on Sundays at 10 am, 11 am, and 12 pm. Weekday tours can be scheduled for $25 for up to five people, plus $5 each additional person. Keep an eye out for scheduled public evening observation sessions, family programs, and parties.



Arizona, U.S.A.
There may be bigger observatories in the world, but Kitt Peak National Observatory and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory—both located atop Arizona's Quinlan Mountains, 6,880 feet above sea level—is the most diverse, with 22 optical telescopes and two radio telescopes. Visitors can get their hands on three of the telescopes—a 20-inch and a 16-inch Ritchey-Chrétien telescope and a 16-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope—at one of the open-to-the-public observing programs, which take place every night of the week.

Visit: In addition to the nightly observing programs, guided tours are offered daily at 10 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm. The observatory's closed from July 15 to September 1 for monsoon season.




Los Angeles
The Griffith Observatory has always been for the people; it was built as a Depression-era public works project, and its historic telescopes have always been available to the public with no charge for admission. In addition to looking through its historic telescopes, the Observatory is also home to a planetarium and a 190-seat presentation theater. Honestly, sometimes visitors are there because they're drawn to another kind of star power: It's one of the best spots to catch a glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign.??


Visit: The observatory is open Tuesday-Friday from 12 pm-10 pm, and Saturday-Sunday from 10 am-10 pm.


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