Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland

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Chabot Space and Science Center, located in Oakland, California, is a hands-on center featuring interactive exhibits, a digital planetarium, a large screen theater, hands-on activities and three powerful telescopes.

The Center is the continuation and expansion of a public observatory that has served San Francisco Bay Area schools and citizens with astronomy and science education programs since 1883. It is named after the father of hydraulic mining and benefactor of the original Oakland Observatory, Anthony Chabot.


The institution began in 1883 as the Oakland Observatory, through a gift from Anthony Chabot to the City of Oakland. The original Oakland Observatory was located in downtown Oakland and provided public telescope viewing for the community. For decades, it also served as the official timekeeping station for the entire Bay Area, measuring time with its transit telescope.

The observatory moved to its Mountain Boulevard location in 1915 due to increasing light pollution and urban congestion. In the mid-1960s, the facility was expanded considerably. Throughout this time, the Chabot Science Center, as it was renamed, was staffed mainly by Oakland Unified School District personnel and volunteers. In 1977, seismic safety concerns terminated public school students’ access to the original observatory facility. The observatory building remained open to the general public, but school activities were limited to outlying classroom buildings and the planetarium.

Recognizing the need to restore full access to the facility, either by repair or relocation, in 1989 Chabot Observatory & Science Center was formed as a Joint Powers Agency with the City of Oakland, the Oakland Unified School District, and the East Bay Regional Park District, in collaboration with the Eastbay Astronomical Society, and in 1992 was recognized as a nonprofit organization. The project was led by Chabot's Executive Director and CEO, Dr. Michael D. Reynolds, breaking ground for the facility in October 1996 with construction of the new 88000 sqft Science Center beginning in May 1998.

In January 2000, anticipating the opening of the new facility, the organization changed its name from Chabot Observatory & Science Center to Chabot Space & Science Center. The new name was chosen to better convey the organization's focus on astronomy and the space sciences, while communicating both the broad range and the technologically advanced nature of programs available in the new Science Center.

Opened August 19, 2000, the new Chabot Space & Science Center is an 86000 sqft, state-of-the-art science and technology education facility on a 13 acre site in the hills of Oakland, California. The museum is an affiliate in the Smithsonian Affiliation program.


Aside from its telescopes, it contains:

  • The Ask Jeeves Planetarium, a "full dome digital projection system" with various shows running daily.
  • The Tien MegaDome Theater, a 70 ft dome screen auditorium with various IMax-like shows.
  • The Challenger Learning Center, a hands-on simulated space mission environment where 8 teams work together to complete a mission.
  • Many changing exhibits, full of hands-on displays, that highlight space and science topics. As of August 18, 2006, there are nine open exhibits.


Chabot Space and Science Center has three observatory telescopes. "Leah", an 8" refractor telescope, was built in 1883 by Alvan Clark and donated by Anthony Chabot. "Rachel" is a 20" refractor telescope, commissioned in 1914 from Warner & Swasey, with optics by John Brashear. It is the largest refractor in the western United States regularly open to the public. "Nellie" is a 36" reflecting telescope which opened in June 2003 and is housed in a rolling roof observatory.

The telescopes are available for free public viewing on Friday and Saturday evenings, weather permitting. See the observatory website for hours and special closures.

Observatory quick facts

  • Original Observatory built: 1883, Downtown Oakland, California
  • Second Observatory built: 1915, at Mountain Boulevard
  • Third (Present) Observatory built: 2000, at Skyline Boulevard

Telescope statistics


  • Type - Refracting telescope
  • Maker - Alvan Clark & Sons, 1883
  • Aperture – 8 inches
  • Focal Length – 112 inches
  • Mount – German equatorial
  • Benefactor: Anthony Chabot
  • Usage Intent – popular and educational use

Meridian Transit Telescope

  • Type - Transit telescope
  • Maker - Fauth & Co., 1885
  • Aperture – 4 inches
  • Focal Length –
  • Mount – Double Pier Transit
  • Usage Intent – popular and educational use / time determination


  • Type - Refracting telescope
  • Maker - Warner & Swasey / John Brashear, 1914
  • Aperture – 20 inches
  • Focal Length – 28 ft
  • Mount – German equatorial
  • Cost – $20,000
  • Usage Intent – popular and educational use


  • Type - Reflecting telescope, specifically a classical cassegrain reflector
  • Maker - Chabot Space & Science Center, 2003
  • Aperture – 36 inches
  • Focal Length – 24 ft
  • Mount – equatorial fork
  • Usage Intent – popular and educational use


The Ask Jeeves Planetarium seats 240 people under a 70 ft diameter dome, and features live weekly shows and daily pre-recorded "fulldome" shows. The weekly live shows are presented by a staff astronomer.

  • Live Show:

Cosmos 360 (Fridays and Saturdays, 7pm and 9pm) uses the planetarium's digital fulldome system to view the night sky as well as flying through space to see the universe from a different perspective. The guided tour include in-depth views of planets, constelations and other current astronomical events. The show is updated to reflect seasonal night skies.

  • Daily Shows:

The daily shows range from content geared for young children through more sophisticated shows designed for a general audience.

A complete schedule and listing of daily shows as well as current show times can be found at the center's planetarium page.

Galaxy Explorers program

The Chabot Space and Science Center offers volunteer and educational opportunities to local teens, who work as explainers on the museum floor or on outreach trips. The program was initiated by a grant from YouthALIVE! (Youth Achievement through Learning Involvement, Volunteer and Employment!) through the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

See also

  • List of observatories
  • List of largest optical refracting telescopes

External links