But astronomical observatories are located in dark, mountainous and sparsely populated regions with the best conditions for observing space from Earth. Many of them are open for tourists, you can even look in telescopes. We have compiled a selection of seven accessible and open observatories in different parts of the world, including Russia.
1. Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg
In the Pulkovo Observatory, they assert that there are not only “white” but also “black” nights in St. Petersburg. Winds and anticyclones make them especially stellar.
The Pulkovo Observatory belongs to the Russian Academy of Sciences and was established in the middle of the 19th century. In the centre of its dome is the Pulkovo meridian – the starting point for surveyors in Russia.
In the observatory regularly conduct evening and night excursions, the Astronomical Museum operates. When choosing a visitation day, you should watch the weather – usually, the forecast for 2-3 days ahead is accurate enough.
The program of excursions depends on the time of year and time of day, but, as a rule, includes observation of the constellations from the street.
Employees of the observatory advise for the first time to choose a tour with a visit to the tower 26-inch refractor. The length of its pipe exceeds 10 meters. This tool watches every clear night. In the world ranking of telescopes that study visual-double stars, the 26-inch Pulkovo is among the leaders.
2. Crimean Astrophysical Observatory
The Observatory in Crimea was built together with a scientific town, which is called Scientific, at an altitude of 600 meters. This is the highest mountain village in the peninsula. Telescopes and administrative buildings are spread over a large area among old pines, lime trees, blue spruces, Lebanese cedars, chestnuts. The proximity to the reserve and the mountain landscape provide a dark sky over the observatory and a calm atmosphere.
The institution employs 17 optical telescopes. The most famous is the largest in Europe Mirror Telescope named after Shain with a mirror of 2.6 meters and the Tower Solar Telescope. During the day you can observe prominences – explosions on the surface of the Sun, in the late evening – the Moon, stars, planets. Employees conduct excursions every evening by prior arrangement (by call) and regularly organize popular science lectures about black holes and dark matter.
The observatory recommends studying the weather forecast before the trip. Also, employees are advised to come not to the full moon – at this time there are no craters on it, and exposure from it reduces the entertainment of the Milky Way, star clusters and nebulae.
Trips start late in the evening. After them, you can stay overnight in the hotel observatory.
3. Moléta Astronomical Observatory in Lithuania
10 km from the old Lithuanian town Moletai and 70 km from Vilnius in 1969 the Molėta observatory was built. For her chose an area with a dark sky – on the 200-meter-high hill of Kaldinaia.
The observatory was built instead of two old Vilnius observatories, in which observation of space became impossible due to the expansion of the city and light noise.
The great interest of tourists to the observatory led scientists to open a nearby ethnozoological museum. It is built of aluminium and glass and is shaped like a “flying saucer”. In the museum, you can see the fragments of meteorites, photos of galaxies, real sundials, models of planets. There are also night excursions with the observation of the stars and planets – a telescope is installed in the dome of the 45-meter tower. In daylight, you can watch the sun in the building of the observatory.
4. Roque de Los Muchachos in the Canaries
Roque de Los Muchachos is one of the most significant scientific observatories of our time. It is located on the island of La Palma and covers an area of 2,400 square meters.
After the observatory was founded in 1979, the Newton telescope was moved here from the Royal Greenwich Royal Observatory. Today there are 14 groups of telescopes working here and teams from almost all European countries and the USA are working. The fact is that according to the purity of the sky and the level of light noise, the conditions here are among the best in the world. There are laws on La Palma that regulate light pollution and the flight paths of aeroplanes. Even the lights are installed with a certain angle of reflection so that they do not shine up.
The observatory is open to visitors on a schedule that may change depending on the time of year. You can clarify it at the site of the observatory. Tourists are shown telescopes, talk about their device, about astronomy and scientific discoveries. Looking at telescopes in the observatory will not work – they are available only to scientists. But the stars here are so bright that you can watch them without special tools.
Next to the observatory is the observation deck – from where you can see all the groups of telescopes and the main mountain range of the island.
There are several more astronomical complexes on the Canary Islands. The Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife specializes in the study of the sun. Here is the largest solar telescope in Europe, Gregory. On the tour, tourists watch the Sun in two telescopes with different filters that allow you to make out the chromosphere and the photosphere, spots, “flashes” on the Sun.
Another “Astro-entertainment” on the Canaries is to go to the Teide National Park with a perfectly clear sky to watch the Milky Way and the stars. Here you can see 83 of the 88 officially recognized constellations.
Local travel agencies offer astrologers at the best places in the archipelago to observe the sky and group tours in the observatory.
5. Observatories in Chile
The Atacama Desert in Chile is recognized as another unique place to observe space. The air in the highlands of the Andes is dry, clean and clear, and on clear days – 300 a year. And only in the southern hemisphere, one can observe some stars, the central portion of the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds – satellite galaxies of the Milky Way.
Most of the telescopes in the desert were built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) international organization. It began observing the southern sky in the middle of the 20th century, and today it is considered one of the most important centres for space research in the world. The Atacama operates 40 per cent of the telescopes of the world. It is expected that this figure will soon increase – now several large objects are being built here, among them the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the European Extremely Large Telescope (European Extremely Large Telescope; E-ELT) image with better detail than the orbital “Hubble”.
The largest and most popular among tourists observatories ESO – La Silla, Llano de Chahnantor and Paranal. They are open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays, but strictly by prior arrangement on the website. You may have to get on the waiting list, as there are many people who want to get closer to space in Chile. On the tour, tourists are transported by special bus from the village of San Pedro de Atacama.
Observatories in the Atakam desert look like science fiction colonial astronomical stations on Mars. And the station Paranal attracts more fans of Bond. The ESO Hotel at this station appeared in the Quantum of Solace film about James Bond.
In Chile, the American Observatory of Cerro Tololo is also available near the small town of Vicuna. It is also the largest and oldest observatory. You have to get to it yourself.
6. Mount Wilson Observatory in the USA
The observatory on Mount Wilson (1,742 meters) near Los Angeles appeared in 1908, and in 1931 received a visit to Albert Einstein. Today, proximity to the expanding metropolis has limited the station’s ability to explore deep space, but for lovers of astronomy, this is an interesting place.
Here is the largest astronomical instrument of the western hemisphere – the Hawker telescope. It was operated by the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble, after whom the powerful Hubble Space Telescope was named – an automatic observatory in orbit around the Earth. In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble obtained photographs on the Hoker telescope at Mount Wilson, which changed the concept of space. They showed that then called “spiral nebula” is not just gas clouds, but huge stellar systems – spiral galaxies, similar to the Milky Way, but distant from us at a great distance.
Now the Hawker telescope is available for free observation from early spring to late fall. Guided tours take place every weekend during the day (without observation through telescopes) and at night (with observation). Private group tours are available by prior arrangement on the website of the observatory.
7. Sonnenberg Observatory-Museum in Dutch Utrecht
One of the oldest observatories in the world, founded at the University of Utrecht in 1853. The oldest telescope in Europe is stored here, and the building of the observatory itself is located in the surviving building of a former 17th-century bastion.
Today, the observatory has a more enlightening function and has the status of the public – observations are available here to everyone, but according to the application filed in advance on the site. In total, the observatory has four working telescopes, one of which is solar. In addition, the observatory conducts excursions, popular science lectures, children’s astronomical camps, it has a museum and a planetarium.
In addition to observatories, you can observe the stars in the official “reserves of the dark sky.” This status is assigned to them by the Dark Sky International Association (darksky.org). Every year she prepares ratings of the territories with the darkest and most beautiful starry sky.