Cincinnati Observatory Center

Get a privileged view of the stars while learning about astronomy and science in this celestial viewing center

The 19th-century Cincinnati Observatory Center is a charming place to learn about the sky with high-powered telescopes and weekly stargazing sessions run by astronomy experts. Take in the rings of Saturn and the craters of the moon through one of the oldest continuously used telescopes in the United States. Daily tours provide a glimpse of the inner workings of the old building.

Astronomical enthusiast Ormsby McKnight Mitchel raised the funds to build the Cincinnati Observatory in 1842. The cornerstone was laid on top of Mount Ida (now Mount Adams). In 1873, the observatory moved to its current location atop Mount Lookout and in 1997 it was listed as a National Historical Landmark.

Weekly Astronomy Nights feature a 30- to 40-minute presentation, followed by a stargazing session through one of the antique telescopes. The smaller 11-inch (28-centimeter) telescope, known as the Merz and Mahler (its makers), was first used in 1845. The newer of the two telescopes dates from 1904 and features a slightly bigger lens. Both are refracting telescopes, with a lens focusing light through a hollow tube. Find the moon, planets, nebulas and double stars, and even the occasional comet.

Try stargazing at Stonelick Lake, 23 miles (37 kilometers) east of Mount Lookout. Every clear-skied Saturday around the night of a new moon, the Friends of the Observatory hosts a free event during which you can look through a range of different telescopes.

The Cincinnati Observatory Center is a short drive east of downtown Cincinnati and there’s free parking. There’s an uphill walk from the nearest bus stop to the observatory, which is open on most Thursday and Fridays nights throughout the year.

On cloudy nights, expect a historical tour of the observatory instead of stargazing. This is an interesting tour of the building that offers an explanation of  how the telescopes work. Even on clear nights, building tours are available on the second and fourth Sunday of every month.

Reservations are required for Astronomy Nights. On Thursdays a donation is suggested, while on Fridays you are required to pay a small fee.

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