Stargaze at Skinakas Space Observatory

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Added by Andreas Brokalakis

See the wonders of the night sky and learn about recent advances in astrophysics and technology

Skinakas Observatory is a joint research facility of the University of Crete and the Foundation of Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH). Its prime objective is to conduct fundamental research in Astrophysics and to promote it along with enjoying the wonders of the night sky among students and general public in Greece. It currently houses two fully functional telescopes: a 1.3m modified Ritchey-Chrétien telescope and a 0.3m Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. A 0.6m fully robotic Cassegrain telescope is expected to be operational in a restored dome by the 1.3m telescope at the end of 2020.

The observatory is located on top of Ida mountain in Central Crete at an altitude of 1750m. The line-of-sight distance of Skinakas from the city of Heraklion (largest city in Crete) is just 25km, a rather winding 50km drive by car, which takes a bit more than an hour. Along the fully paved road, nearly 20km before Skinakas, lies the town of Anogia, famous as one of the most important centers of cretan music. About 6 km to Northwest from the Observatory there is Ideon Andron, the cave where, according to the Greek mythology, the Olympian god Zeus grew up as an infant.

As already mentioned the Observatory is an active research facility. As such, it is not generally accessible to the general public, except for a limited number of days, the so-called Open Days, that the Observatory provides the opportunity to visitors to be introduced to the operation of the facility, to be informed about the latest astronomy results, as well as to optically observe through the 1.3m telescope, if the weather conditions are good.

During the οpen days the Observatory facilities can be visited from 18:00 to 23:00. There are presentations of the telescope and its operation up to 20:30. Due to the limited time, space and number of stuff, the presentations are in Greek. Depending on the available time and the number of visitors, there may be short presentations in English as well. After 20:30, the telescope points to pre-selected astronomical objects and the visitors can view them through an eyepiece. To be informed about the Open Days you may check the Observatory's web site: https://skinakas.physics.uoc.g...

The Open Days are typically from end of May to early September. Despite the summer time, expect low temperatures in the area since the altitude is significant (1750m) and usually there is a lot of wind. Therefore it is highly recommended to bring warm clothes with you. Additionally, since the site does not offer facilities such as restaurants or shops, you should bring with you water and snacks. Public restrooms are also not available.

Getting to the Observatory is a drive through a magnificent landscape and an experience on its own, especially the part of the road from Anogia to the observatory. However, you should be warned that the last part of the road that takes you to the Observatory is very narrow, hence you should drive very carefully.

Once you arrive at the plateau that hosts the Observatory, the view is magnificent. On a clear day, you can see both the north and south part of the island, while you may even be able to see the island of Santorini. 

When you get inside the observatory, it is a truly unique experience to be able to talk with the scientists and get informed about the actual research that is being carried out there as well as learn more general facts about the astronomical objects that they have chosen to point the telescope and you will be able to witness. The moment you can actually see through the huge telescope is unique.

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