Case study of developing an affordable undergraduate observatory

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Astronomy is one of the few sciences where the data (star-light) can be seen by all. Yet, there is a disconnect between a typical undergraduate lecture and, for example, where a planet may be in the sky and how to observe it. With the advent of moderate cost, high-quality ‘back-garden’ astronomy, and standard computers powerful enough to produce original research, we show it is possible to build a small observatory capable of actual astrophysical research for a modest budget ≈ £ 30 000 . We detail the iterative process of planning, funding, results and student-projects, that we followed over 4 years from a Raspberry Pi camera and home-owned telescope, to a permanent roll-top observatory with two fully automated telescope systems capable of undergraduate use and astronomical science. We report on projects ranging from early-years projects based on observational planning, data analysis and some restricted actual observations, to more open-ended final-year projects to observe, e.g. planetary transits, variable stars or high-resolution planetary imaging. We hope this work may act as a blue-print or encourage and aid other small to medium sized higher-education institutions and astrophysics groups to also develop their own undergraduate observatory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number035014
JournalPhysics Education
Issue number3
Early online date10 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2023


  • astronomy
  • astrophysics
  • observatory
  • undergraduate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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