Stargazing just became more accessible in Iceland with the recent opening of a brand new observatory at the fabulous ranch-style, Hotel Ranga. Situated in the south west of Iceland with sweeping views of the surrounding Icelandic countryside, the skies have excellent clarity here with virtually no light pollution. The observatory itself has a retractable roof offering a 360 degree view of the night sky with no trees or large buildings in the way.
This is the only public observatory in Iceland offering guided tours of the night sky by expert stargazers and it is also the most advanced. It houses two computerized eleven inch high quality reflectors (of Schmidt-Cassegrain type) by U.S. telescope maker Celestron. One is fork mounted and intended for visual observing only, while the other is on a so-called German equatorial mount for taking photographs of the night sky.
Although Iceland does not experience 24 hours of darkness, the Sun is only visible for about four hours during the darkest part of the year, making it possible to observe the stars for about 20 hours non-stop! Hotel Ranga is also ideally located to see the Northern Lights. If the aurora appears, the stargazing experts are on hand to explain the science behind them. After your time in the observatory, you can warm up in one of the hotel’s wonderful outdoor hot tubs.
Guided tours of the night sky
The Amateur Astronomical Society of Seltjarnarnes in Iceland has been instrumental in building the observatory – advising on equipment, the observatory itself and even moving their own telescope from Reykjavik to the clear skies of Rangá. Members of the society will be there every clear night for observing spending from 2 to 4 hours with hotel clients and offering them guided tours of the night sky with the help of a laser pointer. They will point out the planets and even far away galaxies as well as talk about the myths, legends and history of the constellations.
Scopes can be turned to view amazing detail on the surface of Jupiter, see Cassini’s Division in the rings of Saturn and resolve details on the surface of Mars. Even the distant Uranus and Neptune are within your reach. The chairman of the society, Sævar Helgi Bragason, teaches astronomy to children, teenagers and adults from playschool to University level. He speaks excellent English and will be at Hotel Ranga on a regular basis. He was recently selected as one of ten young Icelanders who performed outstandingly in their field and in fact Sævar was elected as the 2014 single most outstanding young person in Iceland.