Astronomy Today

Terrestrial Observatories

How do astronomers decide where to build observatories?

Astronomers today spend years examining potential observatory sites to find the best places in the world to build and install telescopes. Ideally, a telescope should be at a high altitude, at a site free of air or light pollution, where the atmospheric flow is calm and predictable, where the effect on the ecological environment is relatively small, and where humans, machinery, and equipment can go and be safe and well-maintained.

Since there are a limited number of such sites worldwide, good observatory locations often wind up with many telescopes in the same location. As the world’s population has grown by leaps and bounds, and as the scientific requirements for a good site become increasingly demanding, astronomers have had to seek ever more remote sites for creating observatories, such as the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Alta Plana in Peru, remote mountains in Mexico, and ocean archipelagos like the Hawaiian and Canary Islands.


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