Great Basin Observatory

Silver stairs lead several feet into the air to a white dome suspended on a metal and concrete pillar. A vivid orange sunset lights the distant mountains.
The Great Basin Observatory at sunset

D. Highsmith

As anyone that has attended an astronomy program or camped overnight at Great Basin National Park can tell you - the skies at night are dark - in fact, they are some of the darkest skies in United States. Those dark skies present a special location for an astronomical observatory. In addition to the dark skies, Great Basin's night skies are extremely stable and transparent, two equally important factors for astronomical viewing.

The Great Basin Observatory (GBO) is the first and only research grade observatory ever built in a U.S. National Park. Set at an elevation of 6,825 feet, with no significant man-made light for 70 miles in all directions, the observatory is a state-of-the-art, remotely operated, optical astronomical telescope.

The GBO enables researchers to explore fundamental questions about our universe. Its location in Great Basin National Park underscores the need to preserve night skies as a park resource.

Find more about the research, educational tools, and information regarding the GBO at its website:
Learn more about our nonprofit partner, the Great Basin National Park Foundation at its website:

Quick Facts about the Observatory:

  • First Light: 2016

  • Construction & Operation funded by the Great Basin National Park Foundation

  • Telescope Type: Reflector (Corrected Dall-Kirkham)

  • Primary Mirror Size: 70cm, 27.6in

  • Camera: Charge-Coupled Device (CCD).

    • Size: 1.4in x 1.4in

    • Temperature: -58º F, -50º C

  • Partner Universities:

    • University of Nevada, Reno

    • Southern Utah University

  • Primary Research Focuses:

    • Exoplanet Detection

    • Double Stars

    • Intermediate Polars

    • Low Mass X-Ray Binary (LMXB) Decay Cycles


A Pristine Night Sky

Perhaps the most common question surrounding the GBO is why is it here? Why did Great Basin National Park earn the distinction of the only national park with the ability to perform original, astronomical research?

Great Basin National Park distinguishes itself by having some of the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 states. The same, rare combination of factors that makes our skies pristine for amateur stargazing allows the power of a large telescope like that of the GBO to glean incredible data from the far flung corners of our galaxy.

Factors like high elevation, the low humidity of the desert, cold nighttime temperatures, low air pollution, distant urban centers & highways, and a dedication to reducing our own light pollution all contribute to a dark sky. When it comes to the sensitive instrumentation in research telescopes, even minor improvements in conditions can greatly improve viewing.

  • High elevation means less atmosphere to obscure one's view. Situated around 7,000ft in elevation, we have nearly one and a half miles of air, turbulence, and dust that the observatory doesn't have to contend with as opposed to being at sea level. This is why so many observatories and telescopes are placed at high elevation like the Mauna Kea Complex (13,796ft) or the Palomar Observatory (5,617ft).
  • Being in the high desert of the Great Basin, there is fairly low annual rainfall and low humidity tends to prevail. Combine this with colder temperatures and the air is not able to hold as much moisture so fewer molecules obscure the view of distant features. The park does still experience its fair share of monsoons and rain/snowfall, but compared to other places in the US, the climate here is well suited for a telescope.
  • As one of the most isolated national parks in the lower 48, Great Basin is hours distant from the nearest major urban centers of Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Ely, NV and Delta, UT are the other nearest communities, but are small enough that their light domes don't typically affect the park. Light pollution is perhaps the largest threat to dark skies, and Great Basin is lucky to be situated far from major light pollution sources. Reduced highway traffic and the low population density of the surrounding areas contribute to our lack of light pollution. Additionally, visitors will find exterior lights in the park are tinted red to reduce the park's contribution to light pollution, preserving our skies.


The Great Basin Observatory is located in an area of the park that is closed to the public. However, tours are provided annually during the Great Basin Astronomy Festival at no cost but do require a reservtion. These are limited to small groups due to the size of the observatory, the restricted area surrounding it, and ranger availability.

To make a reservation, go to the Astronomy Festival webpage and find the "Great Basin Observatory Tours" section for more information.


Last updated: May 11, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

100 Great Basin National Park
Baker, NV 89311


Available 8:00 am - 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day

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