Structure containing telescopes and other instruments for observing celestial objects and phenomena. Observatories can be classified by the part of the electromagnetic spectrum they can receive. Most are optical, observing in and near the region of the visible spectrum. Some are equipped to detect radio waves; others (space observatories) are Earth satellites and other spacecraft that carry special telescopes and detectors to study celestial sources of high-energy radiation (e.g., gamma rays, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays) from above the atmosphere. Stonehenge may have been an early predecessor of the optical observatory. Perhaps the first observatory that used instruments to accurately measure the positions of celestial objects was built c. 150 BC by Hipparchus. The first notable premodern European observatory was that at Uraniborg, built for Tycho Brahe in 1576. Observatory House, in Slough, Eng., built and operated by William Herschel (see Herschel family), was one of the technical wonders of the 18th century. Today the world's largest groupings of optical telescopes are atop Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, and Cerro Tololo, in Chile. Other major observatories include Arecibo Observatory; Mount Wilson Observatory; Palomar Observatory; and Royal Greenwich Observatory.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on observatory, visit Britannica.com.

Seen & Heard

What made you look up observatory? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.