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12 out-of-this-world observatories

By: Matt Hickman on Aug. 18, 2015, 3:49 p.m.
A time lapse star trail swirls around the Griffth Observatory in Los Angeles

Photo: tobkatrina/Shutterstock

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A view of the cosmos

There’s nothing like sprawling out on a blanket on a darkened field, somewhere far from the city, to view a celestial light show. Staring off into a star-filled sky is one of life's simplest yet most profound pleasures, a humbling experience that reminds us of the staggering immensity of the universe we call home.

Sometimes, however, serious stargazers need to seek out the big guns. And for that, there are observatories, telescope-housing institutions dedicated to the exploration of celestial objects: the moon, the sun, the stars and planets far away. Observatories have played a crucial role in the development of our understanding of the cosmos for millennia.

We've rounded up 12 of the world's most spectacular earthbound observatories, including the Griffith Observatory pictured here, with an emphasis on architecture, public accessibility and historical importance. While contemporary observatories are equipped with impressive high-tech hardware (we're looking at you, Mauna Kea), there's nothing quite like a classic observatory where a view of the heavens is just a glimpse into a vintage refractor telescope away. (Text: Matt Hickman)