Visiting the Pine Mountain Observatory
- Can the public visit PMO?
- How Much Does it Cost?
- Where is Pine Mountain Observatory?
- Is there a place to camp overnight?
- What precautions are recommended?
- Why Red Lights?
Note: Please do not use comments on this page to request tours. Call the PMO phone number instead, and leave a message if there is no answer.
Can the Public Visit Pine Mountain Observatory?
YES! We welcome visitors on Friday and Saturday evenings (Bad Weather can force closures) Starting Memorial Day weekend in May. Last public weekend September 22/23 weather permitting. Although we’re open on all these public nights (except in case of emergency), you should choose a night with favorable weather and mostly clear skies if possible. By looking at the information and camera images on our weather page, you should not normally need to call us in advance for onsite weather information. “Dark Moon” weekends are best. Full Moon weekends are least favorable. To see the Moon itself in the early evening, the weekend closest to First Quarter Moon will be best. A Moon phase calculator is available to help you plan your visit, and monthly postings on this blog will also assist in planning. Additionally, you may enjoy an observatory virtual tour. (Note: This virtual tour is on the old PMO website, so some information is out-of-date.)
Please let us know a day or more in advance if you plan to bring a group of more than eight people by calling (541) 382-8331, as we may be able to obtain an additional volunteer to assist with your group. We may be able to arrange visits at other times by advance reservation, however, this option is now limited mostly to school and other educational groups. (Also see below.)
Programs commence at 8:45 p.m. (about sunset) through mid-summer, then move back to 8:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m., or earlier start times by mid to late August and September, as darkness falls earlier. Late arrivals after 10:00 p.m. are not recommended. Depending on conditions, telescopes may be shut down or put away by 11:00 p.m. or earlier, however on clear moonless nights the 24-inch telescope will normally be open until midnight, except after Labor Day weekend. We regret that it’s usually not practical to open or re-open telescope viewing late at night if initially poor weather conditions improve, but groups camping can inquire in advance.
How Much Does it Cost?
To defray expenses and improve our outreach program, we encourage a $5.00 donation per person. Donation boxes are provided in the welcome center (gift shop) and telescope domes. The fee for group tours on non-public nights is $125 for the first 20 persons and $5.00 per person over 20. As noted above, these private tours are now offered mostly to a limited number of school and educational groups. Other groups should plan on joining our regular weekend tours. Weather-related cancellations/rescheduling are allowed with notice by the early afternoon of the tour date.
Where is Pine Mountain Observatory?
PMO is located 34 miles southeast of Bend, in Central Oregon. Take State Highway 20 east from Bend, toward Burns. 26 miles from Bend, just beyond the tiny Millican store (CLOSED) turn right (south) on the dirt road and follow it to the top of Pine Mountain, about 8 miles. This drive requires about an hour from Bend. Be sure you have enough fuel to return to Bend and be sure to bring warm clothing, food and water, as there is usually no food or water service onsite.
What can I Expect When I Visit Pine Mountain Observatory?
After parking, walk past the kiosk and go to the greeting center/gift shop. Here you will be given information concerning the evening’s activities and how to proceed. A large tent is positioned directly across from the greeting center. Programs in the tent may be offered on selected nights, but if not, please be sure to ask us your questions about astronomy, about the PMO site, and about what sky objects will be featured during your visit.
Visitors are provided with a tour of the large telescopes, which includes a refurbished 15-inch scope that had been out of service for several years, but was restored to service in 2014. Shortly after sunset, viewing of the moon (if above the horizon) and bright planets begins, clear skies permitting. As the sky darkens, tour guides show visitors objects through the various telescopes, and a guided binocular tour will be available on some nights. Tour guides also point out a variety of celestial objects, including constellations, visible with the naked eye.
To enhance your experience, tour guides explain in detail about what you see. Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated. Our 24-inch telescope is the prime visual instrument for visitor viewing. [Previously it had a CCD camera attached to a “piggybacked” 8-inch telescope to create images. A number of these images have been posted on the blog.] Often, several smaller portable telescopes will be available nearby. The 32-inch telescope down the path to the east was previously used for research work, but is now out of service. A robotically operated 14-inch telescope has been installed in a new smaller dome near the building housing the 32-inch telescope. The “robo” scope is equipped with a research camera, and so is not available for visual observing.
Once again, check in at the greeting center/gift shop for a selection of DVDs and books about astronomy, plus other souvenirs and educational items. We plan to offer a free handout sheet about general astronomy, as well as projects that you can do to observe the sky. Depending on available volunteers, the greeting center may be open for only a short time, and will usually close by 9:30 or 10 p.m., so arrive early (by sunset if possible). If it’s closed when you arrive, walk directly up the hill to the 24-inch telescope, trying to avoid the use of any bright lights. (See “Why Red Lights?” below.)
When skies are clear, PMO guides may stay up all night viewing! Frequently, they set up their personal telescopes for visitor use. Some portable scopes are as large or larger than the ones in the domes! Amateur astronomers are welcome to bring their own telescopes and binoculars; electrical power is available if needed. If you are bringing up your own viewing equipment, please arrive well before dusk to get set up. Please contact us in advance if you will need to drive inside the gate; vehicle access for telescope setup/removal may not be possible at night.
Is There a Place to Camp Overnight?
Yes, a primitive Forest Service Campground, open on a first-come-first-served basis is located just across the road from PMO. It is rarely full but you may want to call and inquire how busy the Observatory schedule is, especially during the new moon dates. The camping area consists of four drive in sites that can hold trailers up to 27 feet in length, and there are 10 “hike in” sites for tent camping. There are no camping fees. Campground use regulations are the same as any National Forest Camp and are posted. It has one outhouse, no power hookups, water or trash services. Please “pack it out.” Open fires are regulated by danger levels set by the Forest Service. Fire restrictions are posted in the campground and along the road just past the 3rd cattle guard on the way up. Don’t forget to bring water to drink and extra water to douse campfires. In addition to the outhouse, there are portable toilets near the parking lot and the 24-inch telescope building, during the summer tour season. The one near the parking lot is handicapped accessible.
Please note that the nearest hotels, gas and other services are in Bend, approximately an hour drive from the Observatory.
What Precautions are Recommended?
PMO is at an elevation of 6,300 feet, therefore temperatures can drop near or below freezing, even on summer nights. Please bring warm clothing.
The buildings are separated by natural mountain terrain and stairs, and the buildings contain stairs. Please wear protective footwear and expect to climb steps. You should bring a SMALL flashlight to help you find your way in the dark; a red colored shield will be required to protect everyone’s night vision. Red cellophane and rubber bands or tape will be available to cover your flashlight. Please no white lights after dark (unless the weather turns bad) and no flash photography after dark.
We welcome children (grade school and up), but small children and infants will probably not be comfortable in this environment. Children should be asked not to wear shoes with lights. We’ll try to have some tape suitable for covering shoe lights if needed.
Please do not enter the fenced-off area near the 32-inch telescope dome except as part of a guided tour. There are some steep slopes in that area, and the telescope(s), including the new “robo” scope in the smaller white dome, may be in use for research.
PMO is a smoke-free University of Oregon campus. Please smoke only in the campground, following any posted Forest Service rules. During the dry season, smoking may only be allowed inside vehicles.
Dogs or other pets should be kept in the campground area whenever possible at night or during busy periods. Dogs are not allowed in the telescope viewing areas at night, except trained service dogs.
Why Red Lights?
In the dark, the pupils of your eyes open up to admit more light, and your retina also becomes more sensitive. This is what gives you “night vision” so you can see faint objects on the ground and in the sky. If the eyes encounter a white light, the pupils close down again and may take twenty minutes or more to fully open, and for your retina to regain full sensitivity. At Pine Mountain, we are very protective of night vision. Do not operate any white lights on the hill while observing is in progress. We have red cellophane that you can affix to the front of white flashlights with rubber bands and/or tape. Gentle red light aimed down will allow you to see your way around, but will not trigger the pupil sensor.
Other tips: when you arrive on the mountain, turn off your headlights as soon as you park, and do not turn them on again until you are ready to pull out. Keep your smartphone put away (or use well away from telescopes); the screen is actually quite bright in the dark. If your children have sneakers with lights, leave them at home (the shoes, not the kids).
For Information/Questions or to schedule group visits:
Call 541-382-8331 or email Alton Luken, Operations Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org.