Welcome to UCF’s Robinson Observatory!

Robinson Observatory (RO) is a research and education facility at the University of Central Florida. It is run by the faculty and students of the Planetary Sciences Group and of the UCF Astronomy Society in the Department of Physics. The current director of RO is Dr. Richard Jerousek.

We are registered with Astronomers Without Borders. The Orlando Sentinel recommends us as a “thing you have to do before graduating from UCF.

Public Event Schedule and Knights Under the Stars (KUTS) registration

Donate to Robinson Observatory (Through UCF’s College of Sciences)

Weather:  Clear Dark Sky Forcast

Contact RO

Directions and Parking

Our nominal street address is 12727 Ara Drive, Orlando, FL. However many popular online mapping websites will identify this as a location only near the observatory, not actually at it. Some websites will not even come close, mistakenly putting this location in the Avalon Park neighborhood (a neighborhood that also happens to have a street named “Ara Drive”) that is several miles south of UCF, nowhere near our observatory. So please use results from these mapping websites with caution.

Our Open Location Code (a.k.a. ‘plus code’) is 76WWHRR5+MP; here it is on a Google Maps. The observatory’s location on campus can be identified from UCF’s own campus map; we are Building 74.

As you turn on to Ara Drive and approach the observatory, if an event has already begun, we ask that you please slow down to 5 mph and turn off your headlights. Headlights temporarily impair our guest’s night vision!

Parking at the observatory is limited. There are a couple of small parking lots within a 500 feet of Robinson Observatory. UCF Parking permits or virtual daily parking permits  are required. You can purchase a virtual daily permit here.

Observers and Researchers

  • We are located near 28° 35′ 30.3″ N, 81° 11′ 26.0″ W (±0.2″ or so). Our lawn is at an elevation of 60 feet, though the telescope itself is at about 77 feet above sea-level. Our Open Location Code (a.k.a. ‘plus code’) is 76WWHRR5+MP.
  • Science topics that are currently being or will be investigated at RO include: rotation periods of binary asteroids, long-term dust-production behavior of comets, photometric monitoring of variable stars, and exoplanet transits.

Our primary telescope is a 20-inch f/8.2 RCOS Ritchey-Chretien telescope

  • At the Cassegrain focus of this telescope is a perseus port with ZWO ASI6200MC PRO color and a ZWO ASI1600MM PRO monochrome cameras. We are in the process of commissioning an SGS spectrograph from SBIG for use at the telescope as well.
  • With our current setup, the pixel scale is 0.23 arcsec and our field of view is 23.4-by-15.6 arcmin (i.e. about 0.10 square degrees). Typical seeing is 2 to 4 arcseconds at our site. Standard Johnson-Cousins UBVRI filters are used with the camera.

Visitors, scouts, and UCF AST 2002 students

      • Each semester Robinson Observatory hosts “Knights Under the Stars” public events (a.k.a. Open House, a.k.a. Public Viewing). Register your party to attend and you, yes you, can see the wonders of the night sky through our telescopes! These events are free but donations to the observatory are graciously accepted. Currently we are limiting the capacity due to COVID-19. Registration opens one week before the event.
      • Don’t know what’s what in the sky? That’s OK! Our knowledgeable staff will show you.
      • Are you a Girl Scout or Boy Scout leader and want to get your troop excited about astronomy? Contact either the Observatory staff or the Astronomy Society to arrange a guided visit of RO. Our suggested donation is $250 for 10 or fewer and $10 for each additional guest.
      • Public or private events are of course subject to cancellation depending on the weather. As much as we would like to, we can’t control the clouds! Click here to view our weather page.
      • UCF AST 2002 Students: We have forms for AST 2002 extra credit assignments; the form is only available at the event itself and should be turned in to observatory staff.
      • The UCF Astronomy Society, is a registered student organization dedicated to bringing astronomy to UCF’s teeming masses. If you are a UCF student, Click the link to be added to their email list.
      • Contact the Planetary Science Group if you have questions about the observatory or our research.

Observatory FAQ

A regularly-updated list of frequently-asked questions about the observatory.

Q1. Is the observatory going to be open for the upcoming meteor shower?

Q2. OK then where should I go to see the upcoming meteor shower?

Q3. Any other advice that would improve my chances of enjoying the upcoming meteor shower?

Q4. I’d really like to have a private event for my group at the Observatory, do you do that?

Q5. I’d really like for your team to come to my location and do an event, do you do that?

Q6. I bought a star from the International Star Registry [or similar company] for someone, or received one as a gift. Can you help me find the star with your telescope?

Q7. I want to a buy a star from the International Star Registry [or similar company] in honor of someone special to me; is that company legitimate?

Q8. What are your hours of operation?

Q9. Are you going to be open tonight for your scheduled public event?

Q10. I’d like to buy a telescope. Can you give me advice?

Q11. I found a cool rock [or, I have a meteorite]! Can you confirm for me that it’s a meteorite?

Q12. Why don’t you have any public or private events over the summer?

Q1. Is the observatory going to be open for the upcoming meteor shower?

A1. Alas, we are generally not open for meteor showers. There are several reasons for this:

        • Meteor showers are best viewed very late at night, after midnight and later. The observatory has very few staff, and so we rely heavily on volunteers to put on events. As you might imagine, it’s often hard to get staff or volunteers with day jobs to agree to set up and run an event that happens in the wee hours of the morning well before dawn.
        • Meteor showers are best viewed without any optical aid at all. The observatory has a lot of telescopes but they are literally useless for watching meteors, which appear without warning in all parts of the sky and only appear for an instant. It is impossible to point a telescope at a meteor in time to see it, and if you just try to point a telescope at some random patch of sky, hoping for a meteor to pass through the field of view, you’ll likely be totally disappointed. Meteors are best watched with the naked eye where you have an unobstructed view of a large chunk of the sky.
        • Meteor showers are best viewed far away from light pollution. Some times you will read in the news about meteor showers coming up that breathlessly promise 25, 50, 100 or more meteors per hour. It’s important to know that those numbers represent an ideal case where (a) the observer is far away from any lights (in astronomer parlance, where you can see stars down to 6th magnitude), and (b) where the meteors are near the zenith, directly overhead (and so minimizing atmospheric absorption of their light). At our observatory, there is obviously a great deal of light pollution from UCF itself and from the general Orlando area, so we get skies that are nowhere near as dark. Watching a meteor shower on the observatory lawn will pretty much guarantee that you’ll see way, way fewer meteors than the predictions say.

Q2. OK then where should I go to see the upcoming meteor shower?

A2. Our advice is to go somewhere where you can satisfy the three conditions mentioned above. Go as far away from light pollution as possible, where you can see most of the sky, and where you’ll be able to stay for several hours very late at night without arousing suspicion or being hassled.

One spot might be by the St. Johns River on SR 50. It’s easy to get to from the UCF area, is a ways outside Orlando, is not too close to the lights of Titusville, and isn’t forested.

Another spot could be farther south, toward the town of Harmony on US 192, southeast of St. Cloud. Harmony regulates their lighting and so is darker than normal, and so they are friendly toward people staring at the night sky. Plus it is in even farther out of the metro-Orlando area.

You can gauge the relative brightness of the sky with this handy light-pollution map, linked here, here, and here. It’s probably best to find a location that’s either in the yellow, brown, green, or blue areas. (As you can see, most of metro-Orlando is white, purple, red, and orange.)

As always when watching meteors, take responsibility for your own safety. Go in a group, be aware of your surroundings, and trust your instincts if something about a place doesn’t feel right. Furthermore, there is a lot of private land in Florida, so don’t trespass.

Q3. Any other advice that would improve my chances of enjoying the upcoming meteor shower?

A3. Be patient, stay up as late as possible, make it a social event with friends, and be comfortable.

*Note that even a meteor shower with a predicted rate of 60 — when you’re in a dark place — still means that you might be waiting an entire minute or two in between meteors. Think about that — 60 seconds of waiting for 0.5 seconds of a meteor. That ratio means patience is vital! And if there’s light pollution, you might be waiting 5 minutes or more. So be realistic in your expectations.

Some online resources about meteor shower watching in general are provided by Sky & Telescope.

Q4. I’d really like to have a private event for my group at the Observatory, do you do that?

A4. Yes. As long as we can gather up enough student volunteers. Send us an email with the following info:

        • Whether you are interested in a daytime or a nighttime event. (Note that a daytime event will have WAY fewer things to see in the sky, because it’s, you know, daytime….)
        • What dates and/or days of the week you are interested in. (Try to be flexible with this, since we use a lot of volunteer student labor, and we can’t always expect that they will be available.)
        • What kind of group you’re bringing (e.g. an elementary school class, a troop of scouts, a home-school group).
        • How many kids and how many total people would be coming.
        • Who the contact person in your group would be, and their phone number. (We need this to coordinate last-minute go/no-go decisions in case of bad weather.)
        • Whether you can make a donation to the observatory. (Our budget is almost entirely reliant on donations, since we get basically zero operating budget from UCF, so for us to do private events above-and-beyond are public outreach load, it really helps to receive a donation. We can give you a suggestion for this, if that helps.)
        • Our suggested donation amount is $250 dollars for a group of 10 or fewer and $10 for each additional guest. Typically our private events last for about 2 hours but we are flexible.
        • Private events are hosted entirely by very experienced and knowledgeable staff who volunteer their time. If no volunteers are available, we won’t be able to host your event.

At the event, we will have telescopes set up on the lawn and knowledgeable staff members there to explain what they are pointed at. Over the course of the event we can also re-point the telescopes at different objects. We can also give you a tour of the 20-inch telescope that’s upstairs in our observatory building (*It’s currently being refurbished so we won’t be using it). We also have meteorites — actual rocks from space! — that we can show.

Q5. I’d really like for your team to come to my location and do an event, do you do that?

A5. Not typically but we can forward an inquiry to the UCF Astronomy Society to see if there are willing volunteers. For your event, volunteers can bring our LX90 8″ telescopes and set them up. It would be great if you had a flat, open area that is relatively far away from lights. If you can turn off any nearby lights, even better. It doesn’t have to be perfectly dark (especially since general light pollution from Orlando is pretty terrible anyway), but some darkness really helps.

Q6. I bought a star from the International Star Registry [or similar company] for someone, or received one as a gift. Can you help me find the star with your telescope?

A6. Yes, possibly. Send us whatever your information you have about your star (e.g. coordinates (with equinox if you have it), starchart, magnitude, etc.) and we can assess whether or not your star would be visible at all (many stars are just too faint or never rise far above the horizon) and whether or not your star would be visible during an evening when we have a public event. If the star is visible we might be able to show it to you. Just keep in mind that if our event is very busy, we may not be able to divert a telescope to your star.

Q7. I want to a buy a star from the International Star Registry [or similar company] in honor of someone special to me; is that company legitimate?

A7. There are many wonderful, moving, and sincere reasons for someone to want to make a connection between the night sky and someone special. And if it means you become more interested in astronomy and in the night sky, that’s great! It is just good to know what the context is. Some info about the star sellers is here and here.

Q8. What are your hours of operation?

A8. We are open to the public during our Knights Under the Stars events which occur once or twice a month during the spring and fall semesters. We are closed during the summer semester. See our public event schedule for specifics.

Q9. Are you going to be open tonight for your scheduled public event?

A9. Maybe! 🙂 As you probably know, in Florida it can be difficult to predict whether the clouds will be minimal “enough” by the early evening. The vast majority of afternoons in central Florida are partly cloudy, so it can be hard to assess if the clouds will actually dissipate by the time early evening rolls around. In the interest of caution, we wait until the mid-afternoon to give the go/no-go decision so we minimize the chance that we wind up being open during an evening when the sky is too cloudy. Please do not call the Physics Department to ask if we will be open; they will never know the answer to that. The only way to be sure if we will be open is to wait for the confirmation on the website, or follow us on social media.

Q10. I’d like to buy a telescope. Can you give me advice?

A10. Yes, but with the caveat that this is just one person’s opinion, and you can find many other guides online about this question. For example, check out this, this, this, this, and this from the highly-reputable magazine Sky & Telescope.

Anyway, in our opinion, some things to consider:

        • Where do you live? Is there a lot of light pollution, or do you live somewhere dark? If it’s some place in town, are you going to drive out someplace dark every time you want to use the telescope? Considerations: Is the telescope you want overkill for the crummy, light-polluted sky you’re under? Is the telescope you want so heavy that you’ll never want to haul it around?
        • Are you mainly interested in just the Moon, the planets, and a few star clusters? Or are you really interested in hunting for faint galaxies and nebulas? Considerations: Smaller telescopes do a great job on bright things. You’ll need bigger telescopes to see fainter stuff, but that can only happen if you’re someplace dark in the first place.
        • Are you just starting out in this hobby, or are you sure that it’s going to be something you’ll be doing a lot? Considerations: Binoculars are a great way to start out without spending a lot of money, plus they force you to learn the sky. And if you wind up not so enthused about the night sky, it’s OK, not much money lost and binocs are useful for lots of non-astronomy things too.
        • Are you thinking about the artistry of astrophotography? Or just eyepiece viewing? Considerations: Getting good photographs through a telescope takes a lot of equipment, it’s a very expensive hobby and takes a lot of practice/skill to get right, including knowing how to play with software.
        • How do you like humidity? Do you know how many bugs come out in a Florida summer night, and how little it cools off? Are you planning on doing most of your stargazing during the summertime? Considerations: Ask yourself just how much you will use the telescope over the course of the year during our different seasons. Our humidity means that often equipment gets very, very dewy at night, so you might have to fork out for anti-dew devices. Some telescope designs will take longer to equilibrate, so even on chilly nights in the winter you might be waiting a bit longer to get the absolute sharpest views.

To give you some perspective, at Robinson Observatory we have Meade LX90-ACF 8-inch telescopes, and with all the accoutrements (tripod, eyepieces, other tiny parts) the package runs about $2,000. They are great telescopes, but honestly they are a little underutilized from our location on the UCF campus because of light pollution. On a great night during a KUTS public event, we can see max about 2 or 3 galaxies, that’s it. (Though we do get great views of the Moon and the planets.) If there were no other considerations, we could find telescopes for probably about half that price that do most of what we need them to do for our public events.

Q11. I found a cool rock [or, I have a meteorite]! Can you confirm for me that it’s a meteorite?

A11. Yes, we can help you! But first, please visit this flowchart. If you do get through that flowchart and still think you’ve got a meteorite, then send us some well-focussed and well-illuminated photos of the rock and some info based on the flowchart about why you think you have a meteorite. If the flowchart indicates that you don’t have a meteorite, you can still send us mail, but keep in mind that the vast majority of rocks are not meteorites.

Q12. How come you don’t have any public or private events over the summer?

A12. There are basically two reasons: (1) volunteer personnel and (2) weather. Regarding (1): for our events, we rely on the volunteer effort of many UCF undergrads and grad students. During the summer — which, by the way, for UCF, lasts from mid-May to mid-August — those students are often away from school. So we can’t be sure that we’d have enough people to actually hold an event. Regarding (2): summer is just often too cloudy, too rainy, or too humid to have a pleasant outdoor nighttime experience. Also such conditions can be harsh on our telescope equipment.

So it is best to assume that there will be no public or private events possible during the months of May, June, July, and August.

However if a particularly exciting astronomical event happens during the summer, we will try to have an event. In that case, we will announce it on our webpage and social media.


The University of Central Florida has had Robinson Observatory only since the mid-1990s, but the complete story extends much farther back than that.

In 1968, Tinsley Laboratories built a Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope for the University of South Florida’s observatory. The telescope had a 26-inch (0.66-m) primary mirror, and this telescope was used until the astronomy program at USF closed down and merged with the Astronomy Department at the University of Florida in 1982. At that point, the 26-inch telescope was dismantled and placed into storage in Gainesville.

Fast forward to 1990. The Central Florida Astronomical Society (CFAS) learned of the telescope’s condition and went up to Gainesville to see if it could be salvaged. CFAS began working with UCF to bring the telescope to Orlando, and an agreement was reached whereby UCF would build an observatory to house the telescope and CFAS would move the telescope and restore it to operating condition. Thus the seeds of telescopic astronomy at UCF were sown. CFAS moved the 26-inch telescope from Gainesville to UCF on February 13, 1992, and began restoring it.

The Orlando Sentinel ran an article about the telescope which caught the attention of Herbert O. and Susan C. Robinson. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson were well known to the UCF community as benefactors; in fact Mr. Robinson was a UCF Founder. He donated a significant fraction of the funds necessary for UCF to build the observatory building. As a result, the observatory would be called Robinson Observatory in recognition of Mr. Robinson’s generous contribution. The groundbreaking ceremony was in January 1994, and construction began in that November. The telescope was installed in June 1995; the mechanical assembly was completed and the optics installed a few months later, in September.

The observatory and telescope were officially dedicated on April 25, 1996. Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson had passed way on August 12, 1995, but Mrs. Robinson attended the dedication and helped cut the ribbon. The 26-inch Tinsley was then put to use by many UCF students and CFAS members. In addition, the observatory was opened to the public for twice-monthly observing sessions. For several years, the Tinsley telescope brought astronomy to the UCF community and beyond.

In the early 2000s, UCF made a strategic decision to expand its astronomy program with new faculty hires, new courses, and some additional funding for the observatory. In 2004, Robinson Observatory purchased a suite of portable 8- and 14-inch telescopes (Meade models LX90 and LX200). These telescopes, which we still use today on the observatory’s front lawn, were incorporated into both the educational and outreach missions of UCF.

Unfortunately, by 2004, it became clear to both UCF and CFAS that the Tinsley telescope was no longer able to provide the quality observing experience that it should without significant repairs and upgrades. UCF students and CFAS members had been valiantly dedicating much time and effort to the preservation of the Tinsley, but the time and funding situations finally forced the issue. It was decided that, instead of finding financial support to repair the Tinsley, it would be more cost-effective to create an entirely new and more modern observing setup at Robinson Observatory. Energetic and enthusiastic UCF students, in particular Paul Gardner, took charge of this idea and ran with it. They drew up extensive plans for a future facility for the observing floor.

In 2006, faculty in the Physics Department convinced the College of Sciences to support a new start for the observatory. This was soon after the College of Arts and Sciences had split into two separate colleges, and fortuitously, thanks to the earlier efforts of UCF students, the astronomy group was ready with a fully costed-out proposal to present to the new Dean of the College of Sciences, Dr. Peter Panousis. Funds were soon provided to purchase a new primary telescope, a new mount, modern instruments, and computer systems to run everything inside the dome. Additional funding was then also obtained from the Fund for Astrophysical Research. At last, Robinson Observatory would finally be able to complete the mission triad by adding a research program to its education and outreach missions.

In 2007, the Tinsley telescope was lifted out of the observatory building (and donated to the Eastern Florida State College observatory) to make room for the new equipment. Purchases were made, and soon the Robinson Observatory’s newest additions arrived: a 20-inch telescope from RC Optical Systems Inc. and a sturdy German Equatorial mount built by Mathis Instruments. Installation soon began and commissioning then followed in earnest, led by Nate Lust. As has always been the case with our observatory, students took a starring role in the creation of our new observing setup.

We now move to the present day. The 20-inch has become an important tool for astronomy faculty and students here at UCF. Research programs are being conducted at the facility. While a 20-inch telescope is not so large compared to professional facilities in Hawaii, Arizona, or Chile, Robinson Observatory’s niche is to tackle astronomy in the time-domain. Since we can use the telescope at a moment’s notice, we have designed research programs that require short-, medium-, and/or long-term monitoring of astronomical phenomena.

In 2015, a grant from the UCF Technology Fee Committee allowed us to purchase new portable Meade telescopes and accessories that allow us to expand the educational and outreach offerings at Robinson Observatory. This equipment is now used by undergraduates and graduate students in several astronomy courses, and has let us hold more events for the public and for the UCF community.

In 2022 a generous grant from UCF’s College of Science and the Physics Department funded the refurbishment and update of the observatory and the primary telescope. Work began immediately and was completed in Feb. 2023. Since then, Robinson Observatory has had the ability to function autonomously and collect more scientific data than ever before. Currently, the observatory primarily serves as a research and education facility providing high quality data to undergraduate and graduate students in physics, astronomy, computer science, and engineering.


Directors of Robinson Observatory

Assistant Directors of Robinson Observatory

  • 2003 – 2007: Paul Gardner
  • 2007 – 2014: Nate Lust


Visitors are reminded of the following items so that their visit to Robinson Observatory is a safe one. Accidents can happen at night when there are low-light conditions! So be careful!

  • Please don’t run, and watch your step both inside the building and outside on the lawn.
  • The front door is the only exit from the building, and the stairway is the only way down from the second floor.
  • There is a restroom in the building that is available for your use. If observatory staff are at the building entrance directing access, just let them know you need to use it.
  • We highly recommend that you wear closed-toe shoes here. Just like many other places in Florida, creatures here don’t always go to sleep at night! We have seen fire ants and snakes here on the lawn.
  • In case of fire, leave the building and the lawn, and gather across Ara Drive outside the Biology Field Research Center.
  • Telescopes and other equipment are expensive and delicate. Our staff will instruct you in these tools. Please only use the equipment as directed, and please don’t touch parts unnecessarily.
  • We use safety cones and barriers to keep people from tripping over cables and power cords. Please don’t go through or over such blockages.
  • While all ages are welcome to attend our events, minors must be accompanied and supervised by a parent or chaperone! There must be at least 1 adult for every 3 minors.
  • If there is an emergency, call 911. For non-emergency help from the UCF Police Department, call 407-823-5555. To contact the Student Escort Patrol Service (aka “SEPS”), call 407-823-2424. Note that there is no telephone in the observatory itself.

If you have any questions, talk to any staff member, or send email to planets@ucf.edu.

Other Local Observatories, Planetariums, and Clubs


Robinson Observatory acknowledges financial support from the UCF College of Sciences, the Fund for Astrophysical Research, and LIFE@UCF. In particular we are very grateful for support from COS, the Department of Physics, Facilities Operations, LIFE@UCF, and Prof. David Workman for help in upgrading our dome control and telescope control systems.

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