How Amateur Astronomers Turned an Upcycled Dome Into NYC’s First Public Observatory

The Amateur Astronomers Association-backed observatory will offer stargazing in The Bronx.

NYC's first public observatory in the midst of being transported, pre-refurbishment
NYC's first public observatory in the midst of being transported, pre-refurbishment | Photo courtesy of the Amateur Astronomers Association
NYC's first public observatory in the midst of being transported, pre-refurbishment | Photo courtesy of the Amateur Astronomers Association

New York City is finally getting its first public observatory, thanks to the city’s amateur astronomers and some upcycled scrap metal.

The Amateur Astronomers Association, a non-profit that has taught astronomical knowledge through stargazing sessions, lectures, and classes across NYC for the last century, recently got its hands on a dome that had previously belonged to the Nassau Community College in Long Island and was headed for scrap metal. The group planned to upcycle it into the city’s first public observatory. All they needed was a location.

AAA’s Vice President of Operations, Katherine Troche, recounts, “Executive Vice President Bart Fried, and I were in The Bronx for a stargazing pop-up at Harris Park. We were driving around the neighborhood, looking for parking, and we noticed this little, dark strip of unused land near Jerome Park Reservoir.”

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation approved the project in a quiet and minimally light-polluted corner of The Bronx’s Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood—an ideal locale for the new observatory.

As part of the refurbishing, the upcycled dome will get a fresh coat of paint and a state-of-the-art Celestron EdgeHD telescope, which will offer stargazers a free glimpse of celestial beauties like stars, comets, meteors, asteroids, and the sun.

At about nine-feet wide, the observatory is on the smaller size, but will comfortably fit about two to three people at a time. When the observatory is open (seven nights a week, weather permitting), there will always be a member of the AAA on-site to operate the high-powered telescopes and answer any queries.

For those who are not physically able to step into the dome, or on busier evenings, when a line has formed, a comparable telescope will sit outside the dome for additional stargazing opportunities.

“There are no dumb questions,” says Troche. “If there’s anything itching your brain, if you have any kind of curiosity about an object you're viewing, or just something in general, we’re happy to share the knowledge.”

For those interested in learning more about the AAA—especially before the upcoming total solar eclipse, check out the website for upcoming stargazing events, lectures, and astronomy classes. AAA memberships are also available, which come with member-only events, free loaner telescopes, and more.

New York City’s first public observatory will open this year near Jerome Park Reservoir in The Bronx. Admission will be free.

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Izzy Baskette is the New York City Staff Writer for Thrillist. Talk to her at izzy.baskette@voxmedia.com or find her on Instagram.