Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Mon July 20 2015

Check Out Outer Space At These 5 Great Observatories

Destination & Tourism | Tom Bastek | July 20, 2015

Check Out Outer Space At These 5 Great Observatories

Photos courtesy of each destination

Pluto is all the rage right now across the country as we complete our first-ever brush with the dwarf planet. So with this resurgence in space sciences, why not head over to your nearest observatory and get a look at the wonders of the universe through a high-powered telescope? There's plenty of knowledge about our place in the cosmos to be gleaned at these destinations as well. Bonus: visits are free in some cases.

Griffith Observatory - Los Angeles, California

Named for Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the Griffith Observatory opened in 1935 with the vision, “If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world!” Day and night visits are both available six days a week and admission is free. There are two accessible historic telescopes as well as several portable telescopes available to the public and over seven million people have visited the park — not hard to believe since it lies just north of Los Angeles.

McDonald Observatory, The University of Texas at Austin - Fort Davis, Texas

Open daily for daytime solar viewing, the McDonald Observatory also offers periodic nighttime viewing events as well. Its 107-inch, 82-inch, and 36-inch research telescopes are so incredibly popular that the crowds have forced the university to go on a reservation-only system starting in 2016. Daytime tickets include a tour and a solar viewing for only $8. It is important to note that the observatory is not located on the campus in Austin. It is 450 miles and a time zone away in Fort Davis, Texas.

Yerkes Observatory - Williams Bay, Wisconsin

Originally constructed in the 1890s, the University of Chicago now owns and operates the 100-foot, 40-inch refracting telescope. It is still the original that was built over 100-plus years ago, standing in the same exact place. The telescope was even featured in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. They offer weekday and Saturday tours, and periodically throughout the year, a chance to look through the big telescope itself. Sessions are 90 minutes to two hours long and cost $32.

The Goldendale Observatory – Goldendale, Washington

Billed as the largest public telescope in the U.S., the Goldendale Observatory is not used for research, just to teach astronomy to the masses. Originally built by four men who were just into astronomy as a hobby, the 24.5-inch telescope was eventually bought by Washington State Parks. Guests are able to visit from Wednesday to Sunday and admission is free with the purchase of a Washington State Parks Discovery Pass. Winter hours are considerably shorter than other times of the year, so make sure you check the website before you go.

Perkins ObservatoryOhio Wesleyan University

At the time of its completion in 1931, the Perkins Telescope was the largest in the world at 69 inches. In 1961, it was moved to Flagstaff Arizona to be utilized in a place with less light pollution. After being taken out of service in 1999, the mirror made its way back to Perkins where it now sits on display. The observatory still operates the 32-inch telescope that replaced the big one. Although the faculty and students of the OWU Physics and Astronomy Department primarily use it, the observatory offers plenty of day and night programs. Check for dates, times and special events on their website.

There are public viewing observatories in almost every state. If you are planning on a stargazing vacation, check out Go Astronomy for a cool graphical search. Moms and dads: maybe you are raising the next Carl Sagan! 

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