Observatory on La Palma
Credit: ING

An astronomical observatory is a location used for observing events that happen in space. Whilst an observatory can consist of just one telescope, some of the better locations in the world can have more than twenty telescopes.

Observatories are used to make observations in the radio, infrared and visible light (optical) regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Most telescopes are put into domes to protect their instruments from poor weather. However, the domes can rotate, and have an opening in the roof that can be used during observing, and closed when the telescope is not in use.

The location of an observatory is chosen to give the best chance of obtaining clear images of the objects being observed. To achieve this, astronomers try to meet three main requirements for any observatory, namely that it's:

  1. placed somewhere where the weather is good.
  2. away from towns and cities to avoid light pollution.
  3. high up in the atmosphere, to avoid poor image quality and seeing effects.

There are a number of places in the world that astronomers believe provide the ideal conditions to observe from. You can look at some of these using our world tour of the best ground-based observatories. However, the best place for a telescope has to be in space, where it will avoid all the problems associated with the Earth's atmosphere.