Duke Teaching Observatory


Founded in 2002, the facility is designed with two missions:

  • Enhance Astronomy instruction at Duke by providing hands-on observation experiences and opportunities for small-scale research projects to students.
  • Serve as a platform for outreach activities, helping to enhance science education in local schools by providing opportunities to experience astronomical observations and to meet with Duke faculty and students in an informal learning situation.

Open House Schedule: Fall 2021

We will conduct Open House this fall, as long as this is compatible with pandemic restrictions imposed by Durham and by Duke.  The schedule below assumes this is the case, we will update as the situation evolves. 

Open House is conducted outdoors, but in sharing telescopes we do find ourselves within 6ft of others.  We ask all our visitors to take all possible precautions to help us avoid becoming a spreading event:

  • Please wear a face mask at the observatory.  You may want to slide the mask down off your nose when actively looking through a telescope eyepiece to avoid clouding the lens.  At all other times please wear the mask properly.  If you need to remove your mask (to drink water, for example) please step away from other people to do so.
  • As far as possible, maintain social distancing from those who are not members of your family or group.  We have a large clearing at our disposal.

We will be spending time outdoors in the woods; the clearing from which we observe can be overgrown and/or muddy.  In the winter it is often cooler in our hollow than in town, in the summer the dew can make it wetter.  Please dress appropriately.

On or Not:

Open House for 12/3 is  ON.  Should be a pleasant evening.  It will be warm in town at sunset, but may be cooler in the woods a few hours later, so dress for that.

Date Details Status
August 27, 8:30  - 10:30 pm Open House: may see Perseids Success!
September 3, 8:30  - 10:30 pm Open House Success!
September 10, 8:30-10:30 pm Open House: may see Mercury? Success!
September 24, 8:00-10:00 pm Open House Success!
October 8, 8:00-10:00 pm Open House: may see Draconids Cancelled
October 15, 7:30-9:30 pm Open House Success!
October 29, 7:30-9:30 pm Open House: may see Venus Cancelled
November 5, 7:30-9:30 pm Open House: may see Taurids Cancelled
November 12, 6:00-8:00 pm Open House Success!
December 3, 6:00-8:00 pm Open House Success!


Dark Sky Clock (by A. Danko using data from the Canadian Meteorological Center). Click on the image above for more detail.



The observatory currently operates five Meade LX200 GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. For details on the telescopes, check out the user manual or the assembly instructions. Housed in a shed on-site they are assembled for each session. Nine piers, with power outlets, have been installed to encourage visiting observers to set up their own equipment. Located in the Duke Forest, the observatory is operated and maintained by the Duke Physics Department as part of our overall educational outreach effort.


The observatory is regularly used by students in Physics 134, the undergraduate introductory course in astronomy at Duke. To the extent possible, it is open on roughly alternate weekends for free public viewing. Check the schedule at top of page to see when these are available. The site is also used by CHAOS, the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society, for some of their observation meetings.  School groups are invited to arrange scheduled visits at other times.

Contact Us

To schedule a visit to the observatory contact Yuriy Bomze bomze456@phy.duke.edu or Ronen Plesser plesser@cgtp.duke.edu


The observatory is located in the Duke Forest, on Cornwallis Rd, about one mile west of Kerley. Driving west on Cornwallis, access is through a Duke Forest gate on the left hand side of the road. (The gate is usually locked unless observatory is open). The gravel road through the gate forks soon. Follow the road to the right around a large shed and park in front of the shed. Turn off car headlights as soon as you have stopped! Walk down the hill to your left (away from Cornwallis) to the observatory site, about 150ft. A radio tower with a flashing red light, also to the left of the road, is just west of our site. If you get to the radio tower, you have gone too far. Click here for a map and directions.

What Can We See?

With our telescopes, we can make out details of the Moon's surface (central peaks of craters, for example); we can see four of Jupiter's moons and clearly make out the Cassini gap in Saturn's rings; we can make out some asteroids; we can see the glowing gases of the Orion nebula or the ring nebula; we can see several galaxies and many beautiful star clusters. We cannot, for example, see the spiral structure of Andromeda. We can make out the colors of stars, especially when looking at differently-colored members of a binary pair, but for the most part objects appear too faint for our eyes to register color well.