Considerations for Observing Events

The Detroit Observatory was built in 1854; it is the second oldest building on the U-M campus.  We ask for your help in preserving this historic gem.  Please see the advice and guidelines below for participating in stargazing and other activities.

The 170-year-old architecture of the Observatory means that the dome is not handicapped accessible.  Persons with mobility issues have access to the main floor, which includes the telescope pier, the library, and the beautiful meridian circle telescope.  At this time, only the telescope in the dome can be used for observing.  Consequently, individuals who cannot access the dome cannot observe directly through the telescope.  They can, however, see the view through the telescope projected onto screens in the library and in the addition.  Many nights we will also have a small supplemental telescope available for direct viewing from an accessible location.

Visiting the Observatory:
Frequently Asked Questions

What can I see through the Fitz telescope?

The Fitz telescope offers beautiful views of: the Moon; the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and some interesting double stars and nebulae.  Light pollution in Ann Arbor makes observing of fainter, deep-sky objects more difficult — although to some extent, we can mitigate those effects through the use of filters and modern technology, trying to get closer to what it might have been like when 19th-century astronomers first stood in the dome and observed the stars.  We are also developing the capability for solar observing.

Views through a telescope of this sort under the conditions in Ann Arbor will not look as spectacular as images you might have seen in books or online, usually taken with much larger telescopes and advanced tech under better conditions.  But there is a great thrill in seeing the cosmos in real time — i.e., looking through a telescope just as light that, say, left Saturn an hour-and-a-half earlier reaches Earth.  Every look through a telescope is a look back in time.

What about weather?

We hold events irrespective of poor-observing weather conditions.  Poor observing weather — e.g., cloud cover, rain or snow — may prevent use of the telescopes.  Other aspects of the events — presentations, exhibits, and discussion — will still take place, even if the weather is inclement. And sometimes clouds clear just long enough to get a good look!

Events might be cancelled in the case of very severe weather – the kind where you would probably not want to be out and about anyway!

Is the Detroit Observatory handicapped accessible?

The Detroit Observatory addition and the main floor of the Detroit Observatory building are handicapped accessible, but the dome is not, meaning that visitors with mobility issues will not have direct access to the Fitz telescope. Many events will, however, give visitors indirect access to the telescope via video stream from the dome to the other levels of the Observatory. Visitors with accessibility concerns are advised to check the schedule for those events that will include video streaming or to contact us before visiting to see if we can make arrangements.

How many people can be in the dome?

The fire code capacity of the dome is 14, so the dome can accommodate 12 visitors at any one time, in addition to the two astronomy docents needed to operate the Fitz telescope.

What should I wear?

The Observatory dome is unheated, not air-conditioned, and is open to the elements (this is necessary to ensure equalization of inside and outside temperatures, in order to minimize thermal disturbances that would impede optimal viewing). Consequently, the dome can be hot and humid in the summer and cold in the winter. Visitors should dress accordingly.

Safety Protocols

COVID Protocols

Experiencing the Detroit Observatory can involve gathering in tight spaces in close proximity to others — in the dome, in the meridian room, and  other spaces.  In order to enhance the protection of our guests and our staff, all visitors to events at the Detroit Observatory are required to mask when in the Observatory buildings.

The Detroit Observatory strongly encourages all visitors to be vaccinated and to get booster shots when available.

Upon arrival visitors must be prepared to show:

  • A ticket for the event.
  • The ResponsiBlue app updated the day of the event (U-M students, faculty and staff) OR

If you do not pass the screenings or if you do not feel well, please do not come to the Observatory.

Face masks that cover the nose and mouth are required throughout the Observatory, regardless of vaccination status.

These requirements will remain in effect until the Centers for Disease Control rate community transmission in Washtenaw County as LOW for a period of at least one week.  Please see the COVID-19 County Check at https://www.cdc.gov.  

Patrons may continue to wear masks at their own discretion and with our full support after mandates are lifted.  Even with a CDC rating of LOW, the Observatory reserves the right to require masks in the tightest locations where social distancing is not possible — specifically, the dome and the meridian room.

 

If you have questions, please email us at detroit.observatory@umich.edu.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

In General

  • Please do ask questions.
  • Backpacks, large bags, and umbrellas are not permitted in the old Observatory building. Such items may be left in the multipurpose classroom or at the coatrack in the Addition. The Observatory does not have storage lockers for visitors. The Observatory is not responsible for lost or stolen articles.
  • Visitors are not permitted to have food and beverages other than water in the Observatory or the Addition except by advance arrangement with the Observatory management. Under no circumstances are food and beverages permitted in the Meridian Room or the Dome.

In the Dome

  • Please do ask questions.
  • Please do ask for assistance if you are not seeing what you think you should be seeing through the telescope.
  • Please do not touch telescope lenses in any way, and in particular be careful not to brush against them. Even the slightest scratch inflicts irreparable damage, and smudges will significantly diminish viewing.
  • Please always follow the instructions of astronomers and docents.
  • Please be careful where you step in the dome. Entry to the dome is via two steps in a small stairwell that can be difficult to see in the dark. We do not want any falls!
  • Please do not turn on white- or blue-light objects in the dome — including cell phones in normal operating mode. Do not use flash photography. Normal-spectrum lighting reduces the ability of our eyes to adjust to the dark, which is important for optimum seeing through the telescope. Flashes can startle telescope operators or temporarily impair their vision. If you wish to use your phone to take pictures, please be sure your flash is turned off and  set your phone to red light (instructions for doing so can be found here for iPhones and here for Android phones).

In the Meridian Room

  • Please do ask questions.
  • Please do not touch telescope lenses in any way, and in particular be careful not to brush against them. Even the slightest scratch inflicts irreparable damage, and smudges will significantly diminish viewing.
  • Please be very careful not to bump the Tiede astronomical clock mounted on a pier. This clock is also over 160 years old and is very rare. Please do not attempt to walk between the clock and the wooden telescope platform.
  • Please do follow the instructions of astronomers and docents.
  • Please do not touch the telescope’s brass tube or hardware with bare hands — we want to protect the brass from tarnishing.