Observatories on top of mountains aren’t that unusual, but most of these high-dollar facilities are built for researchers. That makes the $5 million observatory Snow King Mountain Resort is placing on top of its peak unique.
It’s not going to be geared first and foremost for researchers. It’s all for tourists who love the sky, public outreach and education.
That will make Snow King’s mountain observatory the first of its kind in not just Wyoming, but North America, Snow King Mountain Resort President and CEO Ryan Stanley told Cowboy State Daily.
“There are other public access telescopes,” he said. “There are some public-access planetariums, and there are some that are combined together. But there are none where you get to ride up a gondola to go visit them at like a resort facility-type tourist destination. And there are very few one-meter telescopes dedicated to public outreach. Most of those are for research.”
With good reason. A 1-meter telescope is a $575,000 investment all by itself, much less a suitable facility to house it in.
Construction of the new observatory is going well, Stanley said, and is on track for a fall completion. The dome for the telescope and dome for the planetarium are expected to arrive next week.
“By the end of August, it should be on the roof,” Stanley said. “That’s a big milestone. We’ll be able to put the telescope in after the dome is done. And we have to have the interior pretty much complete before we can put this planetarium dome in. It has to be, you know, a dust-free type of environment when we set the planetarium dome inside and then install the seats and things like that.”
Bringing Home The Stars
The dome for Snow King observatory’s telescope will rotate with the telescope as it swivels across the sky. That’s not unusual for such a telescope, but it’s still pretty cool and brings a smile to Stanley’s face.
“You’ll be able to see the night sky 360 degrees,” he said.
The 1-meter telescope, which is about 3 feet in diameter, is all one piece of glass. The telescope includes computerized programs that will correct for atmospheric distortion and other such things, producing better, more stable images.
“There are not very many of these 1-meter telescopes because they’re so expensive,” Stanley said. “There’s definitely a good number of half-meter telescopes, but this is a half million-dollar telescope.”
While the main thrust of the telescope will be tourism, researchers and citizen scientists will also be able to rent time to use the telescope for their work.
There’s even a tiny room with a cot in the observatory for a single researcher to stay in.
The planetarium, meanwhile, will be a typical facility that offers 180-degree projection for films designed to be played on a dome.
“There’s tens of thousands of planetarium shows that have been produced,” Stanley said. “So, you can play all kinds of things.”
Many of the films are designed to give people a sense that they are traveling into space on their own voyage of discovery.
Not this year, but next, observatory visitors will be able to dine in a restaurant on top of the mountain as well. The restaurant and the observatory are part of an overall effort to boost the resort’s visitors.
Stargazing Tourism A Rising Star In Wyoming
Stargazing tourism is on the rise in the United States and the world. And it represents a grand opportunity in Wyoming, which has so many beautiful spots in out-of-the-way places that have lots of dark sky which are perfect for this type of experience.
Sam Singer, executive director of Wyoming Stargazing, said his organization, which offers private star parties in Jackson, has seen rampant growth in this type of tourism in the Jackson Hole area. He’s been working on getting dark sky certification for Jackson and Teton County.
Singer is among those who are beyond thrilled that Snow King is placing an observatory on top of their mountain in Jackson.
An observatory on top of a mountain in Jackson Hole was a private dream of his as early as 2006. He became a vocal advocate of it in 2013, after finishing his Ph.D. and moving back to Jackson.
He’s been involved in the project in one fashion or another for the last seven years, often as an advocate at various council meetings.
There’s a friendly banter between Snow King Mountain Resort’s owner Max Chapman and Singer about whose idea the observatory really was.
Hearing that Singer wanted to see an observatory on top of Snow King, Chapman invited Singer over one day to talk about it. Singer told him then he thought a basic observatory would cost around $1 million.
“At that point, I just had some real basic small plans,” Singer said. “Since then, the plans have developed a little bit, and it’s turned into about a $5 million project.”
Singer said Max often razzes him about that, saying that Singer has cost him a lot of money.
“Max likes the best, and he likes to go big or go home,” Singer said. “So that’s why it’s costing him a lot more than I initially told them.”
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter to Singer who gets the credit for the idea. Building an observatory is a dream come true, and Singer believes it’s a win for Wyoming.
“We just want to help people enjoy the night sky and feel connected to the universe,” Singer said.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.