5 Awesome Observatories In The U.S.
Throughout history, humans have been fascinated with the night sky. Groups and tribes all over the world created their own star charts and constellations. Stories blossomed, legends were born. Our modern constellation systems came from the ancient Greeks, and there are now 88 recognized constellations in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Many of us now live in big cities, where artificial light blocks us from seeing the many stars, constellations and planets of the night sky. But there are many amazing places in the United States you can peer through a telescope and look far back in time. Here are five:
McDonald Observatory in Texas
Off the beaten path in West Texas, the McDonald Observatory sits high on the Davis Mountains, which means lots of inky black sky and sparkling stars to peer at. The mountain range boasts one of the darkest spots in the continental United States. The observatory works closely with the astronomy department at the University of Texas at Austin and offers a variety of events, from star parties at night to solar viewing during the day. The McDonald observatory is partnering with the Giant Magellan Telescope, currently being built in Chile, which will have seven mirrors that span 25 meters. So, if you?re ever roaming around West Texas, the McDonald Observatory is definitely worth a visit.
Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona
Kitt Peak National Observatory, south of Tuscon, Arizona, is part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and has the most diverse collection of optical and radio telescopes on earth for daytime viewing of the sun, astronomical viewing at night, and infrared observing. The Kitt Peak observatory offers daytime tours and nighttime telescope viewings, and on a mountain of 7,000 feet, you won’t want to miss the panoramic views.
The Observatories at Mauna Kea on Hawaii?s Big Island
A plethora of telescopes grace the mountaintop at Mauna Kea Observatory, which are located at close to 14,000 feet. It?s the only place in the world where you can drive from sea level to a mountain of that height in just two hours. While the 13 telescopes are only for scientists, you can still drive to the summit to see the view, then explore the Visitor Information Station, which is a bit lower at 9,200 feet. The visitor?s center offers sky parties where you can peer through smaller telescopes and learn from amateur astronomers.
Mt. Graham International Observatory in Arizona
You can camp near the Mt. Graham Observatory in eastern Arizona, then spend the day on a tour with the University of Arizona, which includes a trip up Mt. Graham, a lunch near the summit and a guided tour of the observatories – The Submillimeter Telescope, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, and the Large Binocular Telescope. When you?re done checking out the telescopes, you can gear up to go hiking, rock climbing or trout fishing near Mt. Graham.
Sacramento Peak National Solar Observatory in New Mexico
The 136-foot tall Dunn Solar Telescope at Sacramento Peak is focused on studying the sun, and specializes in high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy. While you won?t be able to go inside this telescope, you can walk the grounds and head to the visitor?s center, where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the sun. There are also outdoor activities to do near here, so you may find yourself on a hike after visiting the solar observatory.
While many of us won?t get to these observatories anytime soon, there are other ways to enjoy the night sky, like finding an amateur star party in your area or even purchasing a small telescope. Or, just see the stars like our ancient ancestors did by heading out to nature, far from the lights cast by cities. There, you?ll be able to see the swatch of the Milky Way stretching in a gentle curve across the night sky and enjoy the myriad of constellations. If you?re lucky, you may even be able to wish on a shooting star.
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