Virtual tours of the world's largest observatories

  • Tomáš Lanča
  • 03.11.2022
The National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), the US astronomy organization that operates some of the largest and most scientifically productive observatories in the world (Kitt Peak in Arizona, Gemini North in Hawaii, Cerro Pachón and Cerro Tololo in Chile), published exclusive virtual tours of all its sites on Tuesday, October 25, 2022. This project was created in collaboration with the Institute of Physics in Opava and is available online for free. NOIRLab uses the tours to present the technical facilities of all their observatories as well as the objects and phenomena observable above the high-altitude observatories.
The virtual tours are available both on the NOIRLab website itself as well as a downloadable version. This is the first version, as the data from the expedition is still being processed and the tours will be expanded to include additional views. Petr Horálek from the Institute of Physics in Opava participated in the project as part of a photographic expedition in March and April 2022.
The Expedition was co-financed by the project for R&D Development at the Silesian University, registration number CZ.02.2.69/0.0/0.0/18_054/0014696.
From the official NOIRLab Press Release:
For many astronomy enthusiasts, few things instill as much excitement as visiting one of the world-class telescopes and research centers that are part of NSF’s NOIRLab. From the remote and rugged mountains of Chile to the towering slopes of Maunakea, from the rocky terrain of Kitt Peak to NOIRLab Headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, NOIRLab facilities cross continents and hemispheres to bring the wonder of the Universe to people here on Earth.
Getting to these remote locations, however, can be difficult even for the most adventurous travelers. That is why NOIRLab is now bringing the excitement to you!
NOIRLab is proud to announce the launch of its comprehensive virtual tours, which give special behind-the-scenes access to the science we do and the diverse community that makes astronomy research possible. The entire suite consists of seven different locations, each featuring panoramic images from various areas near the summit and base facilities of all our Programs. Users will be able to move through these spaces and explore each facility using the locations sidebar on the left, or the NOIRLab and Google Map popup window on the right. The virtual tours are loaded with interactive elements for you to explore and learn more about NOIRLab and astronomy. In addition, you can click on the menu icon at the top right corner to reveal more options.

These tours will allow you to experience NOIRLab’s facilities firsthand like never before. From the comfort of your couch and at the touch of your fingertips, you will be able to glimpse the inner workings of our base facilities and immerse yourself in the very same buildings where cutting-edge science is happening — here and now!
PC and Mac, iOS and Android phones, as well as virtual reality headsets are all supported for these tours. While using a mobile device, make sure to enable gyroscope access for the full immersive experience.

The 360-degree panoramas were taken by a group of talented astrophotographers during the post-pandemic NOIRLab 2022 Photo Expedition to all sites in March and April of 2022 (Petr Horálek, Institute of Physics in Opava & Tomas Slovinský). These photos were taken with a high level of care and expertise, and are best explored from within the virtual tour environment in full screen mode.

NOIRLab’s collection of 360-degree panorama pictures can be used for many recreational and educational purposes; alongside being imported into Virtual Reality systems, they can also be uploaded into special software for display in planetariums worldwide. All panoramas are available via this link in resolutions up to 500 megapixels.

Go on an adventure and delve into NOIRLab’s virtual tours today!

NOIRLab Virtual Tours:
Official NOIRLab Press Release: