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Astronomy is the study of the universe outside Earth. Very few people get the privilege to visit space, but everyone with good eyes can see at least some of the miracles of the universe from the Earth's surface.


There are many reasons to combine travelling with a look upwards.

In modern cities, light pollution means that the starry sky is hardly visible. The far-off countryside provides an astounding view of the stars. Mountains and deserts are also better places to look at the stars than others, firstly because they usually lack the light pollution of modern civilization and secondly because air and all that's in it (primarily water) obstructs the clear view of the stars. If you are at 4,000 meters altitude, you already have a lot of the air below you. And a cloudy day is unlikelier in the Sahara than in say Oslo, making high desert areas ideal for observation of the sky, resulting in many observatories being in such places. Also, astronomy is among the few sciences in which amateur scientists regularly make discoveries on their own, given that nobody can watch all the sky all the time and just having a good enough piece of equipment and looking at the right place by chance, you may discover your "own" comet, asteroid or other object.


Astrology is the superstitious belief that astronomic events interact with human life on Earth. Though dismissed by modern science, astronomy and astrology used to be the same thing in ancient times, and astrology provides a historical background to today's knowledge. While western astrology is loosely based on Graeco-Roman mythology, there are other traditions of astrology in places such as China.


Not much equipment is needed to get started with amateur astronomy. A good pair of binoculars, or even just a good pair of eyes, can get you off to a good start. However, don't look directly at solar eclipses, even full ones.

Also, consider when visiting professional observatories that large lenses or mirrors are very sensitive to temperature and thus the observatories are usually not heated.


  • Solar eclipses might be the most spectacular phenomenon visible from Earth's surface. Seemingly by coincidence, the Moon is barely large enough to cover the Sun.
  • Lunar eclipses are more common than solar eclipses, and visible from any point on Earth where the moon can be seen.
  • Northern Lights are only locally visible.
  • Meteors are seasonally visible.
  • Comets can be observed occasionally by amateur astronomers without any specialized equipment.
  • Planets can be observed some months.
  • ISS and Iridium flares can be observed almost daily.

Astronomic navigation[edit]

See Navigation.

Research observatories[edit]

Pre-modern observatories are usually obsolete today, and remain as museums, or sites of education.

Most modern research telescopes are enormous facilities in remote areas with favorable atmospheric conditions.


  • 1 European Space Agency's Columbus Control CentreMünchener Straße 20,82234 Weßling (20km (12 mi) outside of Munich in Oberpfaffenhofen),  +49 8153 28-2711, e-mail: . every day from 15:00-16:00 (registration required, groups limited to 30 persons) until the "Blue Dot" space mission is in space, afterwards depending on space missions. is used to control the Columbus research laboratory of the International Space Station, as well as a ground control centre for the Galileo satellite navigation system. It is located at a large research facility of the German Aerospace Centre. (DLR). German registration form free.
  • Stjerneborg observatory, Hven Island, Sweden - Tycho Brahe's observatory.
  • 2 University Observatory Vienna (Universitäts Sternwarte), Türkenschanzstraße 17, Währing, Wien, Austria. The Institute of Astronomy is part of the University of Vienna, located inside a fabulous historic building. The building and the Sternwartepark were closed for visitors up until recently. The park contains many rare trees. It has a mini observatory on the roof. Guided tours are available.
  • 3 The Royal ObservatoryBlackford Hill, South Edinburgh, United Kingdom +44 131 668-8100fax: +44 131 668-8264. Public Evenings every Friday 19:00-20:45 - must be booked in advance. Take a tour of the dome, housing one of Europe's largest telescopes. Learn about the history of the observatory and some of the cutting edge work they are carrying out today. If the weather is clear you can observe the stars in winter or the sun (through a special telescope) in summer. On some Fridays there is a special theme - check website for details. £4.00 adults, £3.00 children.

North America[edit]

  • 4 Mt Graham International Observatory1651 W Discovery Park Blvd, Safford, AZ (Discovery Park Campus),  +1 928-428-6260, e-mail: . May-Oct, depending on weather. Operated by the University of Arizona and situated in the Pinaleño Mountains west of Safford, this observatory offers periodic tours for the public. Reservations required, preferably two or more weeks in advance. Tours depart from the Discovery Park Campus in Safford. $40/person, includes lunch.
  • 5 Kitt Peak National ObservatoryTohono O'Odham Reservation, AZ (90 minutes southwest of Tucson),  +1 520-318-8726, e-mail: . 9AM-3:45PM daily. Operates several astronomical telescopes plus a large solar telescope. Several guided tours are available, as well as a nightly observation program (reservations required). $9.75 for all three tours (adults).
  • 6 Mauna Kea ObservatoriesNo street address (6 miles uphill from the intersection of Route 200 (Saddle Road) and the Mauna Kea Access Road),  +1 808-961-2180, e-mail: . The observatories at the peak of Mauna Kea itself are off limits to anyone who has no 4-wheel drive vehicle and has not gotten permission to visit, though groups of more than 10 may make a special request at least a month in advance. However, there is a Visitor Information Station at an altitude of 9,200 feet (2,800 meters), where the local Astronomical Society assembles very good portable telescopes every night and shares them and their knowledge with visitors for free. That altitude is better for the naked eye than the peak, anyway, because at higher altitudes, the lack of oxygen starts to decrease people's ability to see. The sky at Mauna Kea is unparalleled: There is an extremely low level of light pollution at Mauna Kea because it is high up and far from cities, and also because the cities and towns on the Big Island of Hawaii use low-pressure sodium street lamps and some LED lamps with very low blue light emissions, rather than more common, light-polluting types.

South America[edit]

While the headquarters of the European Southern Observatory are in Garching near Munich, Germany, the observatories are located in northern Chile. These include the:

  • European Southern Observatory
    • New Technology Telescope, La Silla, Chile
    • Very Large Telescope, Paranal, Chile
    • Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, Llano de Chajnantor, Chile

See also[edit]

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