Frequently Asked Questions | Three College Observatory

Frequently Asked Questions

The Three College Observatory Public Nights are operated by UNCG faculty members, both current and retired, as a volunteer service to the community.  Reservation requests are handled by volunteer staff.  Your reservation requests will be answered but you may not hear back immediately.  Thank you for your patience.


How do I know when Public Nights are scheduled?  
Public Nights are always on Friday and Saturday evenings and are listed on the Public Nights page. To reserve a seat, simply find the day you wish to attend and click “Reserve your seats”. 

How do I get to the Observatory?
There are directions available on our website.  If you wish to use a GPS, enter the following address which belongs to the property adjacent to the Observatory:  5106 Thompson Mill Road, Graham, NC   27253.  It will get you close enough to see the green observatory sign.

Can I bring my children to the Observatory?  
In general, children younger than about 7 do not get much out of a visit to the Observatory.  As part of your observing experience, you will be spending between 60 and 90 minutes in a group of about 45 people either outside in the dark or inside a dark observatory dome.  There can be long delays as you wait in line to look through the telescope at various objects.  And it will be after 9 PM or later before you leave.    Having said that, you know your child best and need to make this decision yourself.   Some children do very well at the Observatory and we like to hook them on Astronomy early!

A baby is a different matter.  The observatory is not heated and can be quite cold at night during winter months.  You’ll probably have to pass the baby off to someone else while you look through the telescope and there is no room in the dome for a stroller.  For these reasons we’re sure you can understand why we generally discourage our visitors from bringing babies and toddlers to the observatory.

Can I bring a large group to the Observatory?  
A small group of family or friends — typically 2 – 8 people — will be welcome at the observatory.  If your group is larger than approximately 8 people we would encourage you to send an email to requesting a special night.  We like to schedule special observing sessions for groups of 25 – 40 people.  If your group is this large please suggest several possible dates and times that would work for you and we will try to fit it into the observatory (and faculty) schedules.  If your group is larger than 8 but smaller than 25 we will try to schedule you with some other large group.

What if it’s cloudy?
The decision on whether to hold or cancel a Public Night viewing is made between 5:30 and 6:30 pm of the evening of the scheduled observing.  You will be informed on the night observing is scheduled whether or not it was necessary to cancel (more information to follow).  Please keep in mind that it is difficult sometimes to make the right decision even after consulting weather reports and satellite images, and that it often helps to make the cancellation decision as late as possible in order to make the right call.  No one likes to be cancelled but it is also no fun to stand around the observatory when there is nothing to see because of clouds.

How do I get my tickets?  
We do not send out tickets as such but you will receive a confirmation email after reserving your seats. We do ask that if you have to cancel you email  promptly so that we can assign your place to someone else.

What happens if my Public Night is cancelled?  
There is no automatic rescheduling if your night is cancelled.  You will need to fill out another request online.  Because the weather in this part of North Carolina is so variable, many visitors have to try several times before hitting a good night.

Are Public Nights scheduled throughout the year?  
Yes, though not in July – mid September.  We do not schedule any public nights in the hot part of the summer because experience has shown that hot humid North Carolina weather results in a very high percentage of summer cancellations. We don’t schedule public nights during the part of each month near full moon because the brightness of the moon makes it difficult to see anything else.

How should I dress?
The Observatory is not heated in the winter or cooled in the summer.  You should dress appropriately for a 60-90 minute outdoor experience on whatever date you come.  In the spring and fall it can sometimes be very hot, and in the winter very cold.

Is there a wait list?
Yes. If you wish to be put on our wait list, please email We will need to know what public viewing night you’d like to attend and how many people are in your party. You will receive an email if any seats become available.

Is the Observatory wheelchair accessible?
The TCO was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is currently, and unfortunately, not accessible. However, we are currently looking into options and hope that within the next few years to have a fully accessible facility.