A Brief Guide to Astronomical Observatories

Astronomy is a branch of science applied to study astronomical bodies, and an observatory is a dedicated place to view the astronomical bodies for marine, terrestrial and celestial events.

Besides astronomical observations, observatories are also used for geophysical, volcanology, and other studies. Typically, all astronomical observatories consist of astronomical sextants, which measure the distance between stars and align astronomical phenomena.

Types of Astronomical Observatories

Depending on the type of observation needed, astronomical observatories are divided into ground-based, space-based, airborne, and observatories.

Astronomical Observatories

  • Ground-based observatories: These observatories are located on the surface of the Earth and are used by astronomers to observe the visible light and radio signals in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are generally dome-shaped structures where optical telescopes are housed to protect them from harmful rays and other elements. The domes typically have a slit in their roof, which can be opened during observations and closed at other times. Some of these domes are rotatable for observations of the night sky. However, radio telescopes are not housed in dome-shaped structures. Observatories for optical observations are generally located on an elevation where the night sky is clear, and the air is thinner, with minimal pollution and atmospheric turbulence. Radio observatories are those observatories that are used for radio astronomy using radio telescopes in the radio portion of the EM spectrum. Such observatories have visitor housing, data reduction centers, control centers, and other supporting facilities. Radio observatories are generally located away from the city and population, where the EM wave from radio, TV and other EMI-emitting devices is minimal. Unlike the Ground-based observatories, these can also be placed in valleys, with an extra coating of EEM shielding.
  • Space-based observatories: As the name suggests, these observatories are located in outer space, many of which orbit the Earth. The space telescopes in these observatories are generally installed to observe other plants at different wavelengths of the EM spectrum, which cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, thus impossible to observe from the ground. The angular resolution from the Hubble Space Telescope is much smaller than any other ground-based telescope due to the lesser air turbulence. However, their added advantage comes with a hefty price as they are expensive to install and require regular maintenance in space.
  • Airborne observatories: These observatories have an advantage of height compared to the Earth’s atmosphere. They also demand lesser maintenance when compared to space telescopes. Many telescopes use airplanes to observe the infrared and other radiations in the EM spectrum.
  • Volcanic observatories: These are constructed to monitor and keep track of volcanic eruptions and the impact of active volcanoes. Each observatory has a designated geographic area of observation. However, mobile observatories can be deployed on demand. They generally monitor all volcanic eruptions and prepare communities and raise awareness for active volcanoes in the geographical area.

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