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
pus unto itself.
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.