Day 5: Plan a world tour of astronomy?

As I mentioned in our very first “Why travel” post, I’m hoping to find some fields that could provide ceaseless technical challenges.  At least for now, Astronomy is a very promising one.

So I posted this question on‘s forum: 

Hi group,

I’m planning an one year world tour with my wife. We’re planning to start from China, go to Austrilia, New Zealand, fly to Chile, Brazil, onto Mexico, US, Canada. From US, fly to Europe and go from north to south from UK to South Africa. What’ll be your recommendation for places to visit or people to meet? I’m definitely trying to visit the Las Campanas Magellan Telescope in Chile. But what else?

Thanks a lot,


Jeff Barton replied pretty quickly with tons of useful information:

For starters, take a look at the book Space Places, which is a photographic tour of observatories and space-science facilities that will give you some ideas.

Not all professional observatories welcome visitors and those who do usually have a set schedule for them. The Keck Visitor’s Center in Hawaii is worth a stop but they keep a strict schedule for tours and outreach nights, so contact them in advance.

In the US, I’m heavily biased in favor of McDonald Observatory in Texas, but I also like to visit Mt. Palomar near San Diego, Griffith Park and Mt. Wilson near Los Angeles and Pasadena — and you certainly should look at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory‘s tour schedule. Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona, and nearby Meteor Crater are nice tours. Sunspot and Apache Point, New Mexico, near Cloudcroft are beautiful places to visit, and the Very Large Array near Socorro is very impressive.

Kitt Peak National Observatory SW of Tucson, Arizona, certainly is not to be missed. The tours there are first rate and observing nights are well worth the cost.

I’ve been to all of the above except the Keck, and can assure you they’re worth the trip — especially if you can arrange your schedule to coincide with their visitor nights. The Smithsonian and National Air & Space Museum I’ve also visited and could have spent a full week there easily. If I were to pick additional US facilities to visit, they’d be Yerkes Observatory and the Marshal Spaceflight Center. Other NASA facilities I’ve visited include the Ames Research Center near Mountain View, CA, and the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston and Apollo museums and research facilities in Clear Lake, TX.

I’ve only visited one site in Europe and that’s Pic du Midi, which is closed when the cloud deck socks in the tramway towers, so make reservations to visit and watch the weather. But the nearby Chamonix ski resort and Mer d’Glas glacier are certainly worth the trip even if you get there and the observatory tours are closed. This is just about the most beautiful place in the world, in my opinion, and well worth the trip.

Use Google and the facility names to find their Web pages and visitor’s schedules.

Boy, this is tons of homework.  But I love it.  Inspired by Jeff’s answers, here are a list of observatories in Australia and New Zealand

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