Astronomical Research Task P7 Harriet podmore


Observatories - a room or building housing an astronomical telescope or other scientific equipment for the study of natural phenomena.

Major optical infrared astronomical observatories are located in Chile, Hawaii, the Canary Islands and Australia.

Factors that affect the location of an observation:

  • High Evelvation- so there is less atmospheric gas above them for light to pass through
  • They need frequent cloudless nights in order to get good images.
  • they have dry air with very little atmospheric pollution which would disturb light from space.
  • they are far from street lights and other sources of light pollution.

Astronomers can work with telescopes locally or remotely.

If an astronomer works locally with a telescope they are in the same location as the telescope, e.g. In the observatory or using a smaller handheld or tripod telescope in a field or on a mountain. If they are with the telescope they are operating it locally.

In comparison if the astromener is working remotely with a telescope they could be as far away as in another country.

Telescopes are usually controlled by computer. This has the following advantages:

  1. astronomers can work remotely
  2. telescopes can be programmed to track objects so that data can be collected over a long period of time
  3. The telescope can be precisely positioned to find a distant object
  4. The data can be recorded and processed by computer

Telescopes outside of the Earths atmosphere

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages for using telescopes outside of the earths atmosphere:


  • No atmosphere - therefore light from distant stars is not absorbed or refracted
  • They can use parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that are absorbed by the atmosphere


  • they are very expensive to manufacture and place in orbit around Earth
  • Telescopes can be programmed to track objects so that data can be collected over a long period of time
  • maintaining and repairing a space telescope is very expensive
  • Space programmes can be unpredictable and at risk from funding cuts and changes in government policies
International Collaboration

The majority of recent developments in astronomical telescopes have been as a result of international co-operation. This has two main advantages:

  • the cost of the venture can be shared
  • expertise can be shared

Two examples of International Collaboration include...

For example, the Great Canary Telescope in the Canary Islands was completed in 2009. Ninety per cent of the project was funded by the Spanish government and the remainder was split between Mexico and the University of Florida. These stakeholders share the use of the telescope in these proportions.

Great Canary Telescope

The Gemini Observatory consists of two telescopes - one in Chile and one in Hawaii. This allows them to view objects in the skies of the northern and southern hemispheres. The project is jointly funded by the USA, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Australia.

Gemini observatory
Other Factors that affect Observatories

The successful operation of an observatory depends on many factors. These include:

cost- the cost of the building and materials. Not only this but wages for employees and running costs such as electricity and heating. For more state of the art observatories factors such as technology is a much larger cost. Telescopes that can track a celestial body across the sky cost a lot more but are nescessary for much more in depth research.

environmental and social impact near to the observatory- because observatories have to be usually high up they are often situated on mountains or large hills. These more natural environments are often protected as they are habitats for endangered species and plants. Socially if people live near the planned sight of an observatory it could be contested due to disruption or noise. Often people worry that the natural asthetic is lost so observatories work to maintain a natural and environmentally sustainable building.

working conditions for employees- with altitude comes low temperature. For employees working through the night the cold temperatures could be a risk to health. It is also important that employees are safe and have all the nescessary facilities and safety precautions. They must be able to contact someone in an emergency and there is often no signal on mountains.

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