Under the dark of night, away from the bright city lights, you can see the skies above us the way they were meant to be seen: crystal clear and unending. The Northwest has several opportunities for visitors to view the skies with the help of professionals and huge telescopes. Check the observatory’s webpage for a forecast of clear nights before you head out to visit one of these amazing places.
Pine Mountain Observatory
A facility of the University of Oregon in Eugene, the Pine Mountain Observatory is an hour drive southeast of Bend and at an elevation of 6,500 feet. It is open to visitors on Friday and Saturday nights from late May through September. You’ll be given a tour and presentation in basic astronomy in addition to viewing the skies through the scopes and connected digital cameras.
Located on the Washington State University campus in eastern Washington, the clear night skies are perfect for viewing the heavens above us. The historic 12″ double lens telescope was created around 1888. The building to house the scope was dedicated in 1953. They hold regular free “star parties” open to the public where guests can view the skies through their 12″ telescope.
The Theodor Jacobsen Observatory
Used as part of the University of Washington’s astronomy program, the on-campus observatory is open to the public every first and third Wednesday between March and November. The building to house the telescope was built in 1895, and contains a 6″ refracting telescope within its dome.
Part of the Sunriver Nature Center and located near the Sunriver Resort, the observatory has as many as 10 rooftop telescopes available for use. They offer programs for solar viewing as well as night time viewing. It is a great facility to open up the world of science to the younger family members. They also hold planetarium shows in their Star Dome. The Observatory offers guided tours and expert help during summer months Tues-Sun. Labor Day-mid June they are open Wed. and Sat nights. The Nature Center is open daily in summer months, weekends during off-season. Adults $7, discounts for children and seniors.
Located within a Washington State park, the Goldendale Observatory was built to house telescopes built by four amateur astronomers and students from Clark College in Vancouver in the 1960s and dedicated as a public science center. The facility is currently undergoing a major renovation including adding a rooftop observation deck and advanced learning center. On a hilltop at 2,100 ft in an area with very little light pollution, the views are amazing. The facility offers guided solar shows as well as night time viewing. Goldendale is not far from the Maryhill Museum of Art, and you can make a day of enjoying man-made art as well as the art of nature. Day use parking pass required and is available for purchase on site. Admission is free.
Oregon City, Oregon
Public nights are available at this small observatory located on the campus of Clackamas Community College and with presentations by the Rose City Astronomers Club. On most clear nights, volunteers will also set up the observatory’s smaller telescopes on the outdoor deck to look through in between visits to the largest telescope. Call in advance for details on public nights. Free.
The Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory
Bainbridge Island, Washington
Operated by the amateur and nonprofit Battle Point Astronomical Association, the observatory is a small planetarium with a 27.5″ reflector scope that welcomes school groups and hosts star parties. When the sky is clear, astronomers will be there to help you view the skies. $5 suggested donation.
Herrett Center for the Arts and Science
Twin Falls, Idaho
With both an observatory and a planetarium, the Herrett Center operates on the College of Southern Idaho. Their observatory has a wheelchair-accessible 24″ scope. The Planetarium is located in a 50 foot dome and offers presentations 4-6 times per day, Tuesday through Saturdays.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) Planetarium
OMSI is a very popular interactive science and planetarium located on the banks of the Willamette River in downtown Portland. Their 52 ft domed theater offers 360 degree projections and has daily shows year round. The OMSI exhibits are geared towards exciting children in the many different aspects of science. Closed Mondays Sept-June; Open 7 days a week June-Sept. Planetarium shows are not included with admission to OMSI exhibits and can be purchased separately.
The Willard Smith Planetarium
Located in the Pacific Science Center under the shadow of the Space Needle, the Willard Smith Planetarium has digitally advanced technology systems under their dome. Shows are live and presenters can modify the program based on visitor interest. Planetarium shows are included with general admission but require reservations. Admission starts at $13 for children and up; discount available with a CityPass. Closed Mon-Tues in winter months; Open 7 days a week the rest of the year.
The Willard Geer Planetarium
The planetarium is part of the astronomy department at Bellevue College. They present free public shows on select Fridays. Reservations are suggested. They offer videos where a clear nighttime sky is accurately reproduced on their specially domed ceiling to give visitors an immersive experience.
Located Western Washington University Campus, the planetarium offers shows most Thursday afternoons. Shows are held in a 24 foot dome facility and are led by presenters who will teach, inform, and answer questions followed by a video presentation. Admission $10 and must be purchased in advance.
Planetarium Sky Theater
East of Portland at Mount Hood Community College, the school has a small planetarium located on campus offering public shows during the school year All shows are presented under a realistic representation of the night sky, featuring the latest galactic, stellar and planetary images. Admission $5
Chemeketa Community College
The college’s planetarium offers shows to the public presented by the Salem Astronomy Club on Friday evenings during the school year. The facility has a 35 ft dome in a theater seating 60 people. Admission $5