The closest to space. Astrotourism in Małopolska

the evening forest landscape with the astronomical observatory building
Astrotourism is an increasingly popular branch of tourism. There is probably no person who would not be impressed by a starry sky. In search of the perfect place to observe the sky, enthusiasts are eager to travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. Since the most vital thing in astrotourism is finding an area with the darkest possible patch of sky, such places attract night sky enthusiasts to Małopolska. Attention astrotourists! On 18 March 2022, there will be the last winter Full Moon before the new astrological year. The third full moon in 2022 will be on Friday, 18 March. It is the last moment to choose the perfect place to observe it.

Full moons and major astronomical phenomena in 2022

Before you plan a trip to observe the sky, find out the best time to do it. Remember, however, that full moons are not conducive to stargazing, and there is nothing more beautiful than the view of the Milky Way observed from a mountain glade. There is also no more exciting view than the shadows caused by the full Moon. The choice is yours.

  • 18 March Full Worm Moon
  • 16 April Full Pink Moon
  • 30 April partial solar eclipse
  • 16 May Full Flower Moon, total lunar eclipse (at 4.47 - 6.11)
  • 14 June Full Strawberry Moon
  • 13 July Full Goat Moon
  • 12 August Full Sturgeon Moon, Perseid Meteor Shower Peak
  • 10 September Full Harvest Moon
  • 9 October Full Hunter’s Moon
  • 25 October partial solar eclipse (at 11.13 - 13.30)
  • 8 November Full Beaver Moon, total lunar eclipse
  • 9 December Full Cold Moon

An international declaration by UNESCO states that "The dark sky is the cultural, scientific and ecological heritage of humanity". Unfortunately, its existence is increasingly under threat. The fact that we are beginning to see fewer and fewer stars results from increasing urbanisation. We are building more lamps and lanterns to lighten up our space. A person with average eyesight, in good conditions and under a dark sky, can see up to around 4 000 stars. When we are in a city this number automatically decreases, because of the light glare, making it challenging to observe the sky. That is why astrotourists look for places of the so-called "dark sky" and visit facilities that enable them to broaden their astronomical knowledge (observatories, planetariums). One of the "dark sky" areas is the border area between the Island Beskids and Myślenice.

The Astronomical Observatory on Mount Lubomir in the Island Beskids

The conditions for astronomical observations worsened with the development of cities as a clear and dark sky is essential for observation. When so-called light pollution starts appearing in the sky, observing opportunities decrease significantly. The first proposal to establish an observatory in a place with a good climate came from Professor Tadeusz Banachiewicz, the then director of the Kraków Observatory. His efforts led to the establishment of an observatory on Lubomir (922 metres above sea level) in the Łysina mountain range near Myślenice in 1922. The observatory became famous after the discovery of two comets in 1925 and 1936. Burnt down by the Nazis in 1944 during actions against partisans, it was rebuilt and re-opened only in 2007. The observatory is situated on the summit of Mount Lubomir, in a picturesque part of the Island Beskids. The place, whose history dates back almost a hundred years, still impresses with its dark sky and beautiful views. As one of only a few in Poland, it is open to tourists walking the nearby trail. It is also the only observatory in Poland that organises shows of objects in the sky, which can only be observed in the sky unpolluted by any light or requiring a very stable atmosphere.

The Astronomical Observatory on Mount Suhora in the Gorce Mountains

Not many people are aware of the existence of this amazing place on the map of Małopolska Province. It is called the place in Poland that is "the closest to space", and it has been operating for over 30 years. The astronomical observatory in the Gorce Mountains on Mount Suhora (1009 metres above sea level) is owned and operated by the Department of Astronomy of the Pedagogical University of Kraków. It is situated near the village of Koninki, about 60 kilometres southeast of Kraków. This place is accompanied by the picturesque natural circumstances of the Gorce National Park, which is very popular among visitors. It is occasionally open to visitors and organised groups who have arranged a convenient date in advance, or during the Observatory Open Days organised by the Department of Astronomy. It can be visited only during the daytime. For organisational and safety reasons, night sky shows are not performed. During the visit, participants can see the dome, the telescope and the computer laboratory, and listen to a short lecture about the observatory’s activities. If the sky is clear, a sunspot show is possible.

The Youth Astronomical Observatory in Niepołomice

On the map of cosmic and astronomical places in Małopolska, the Youth Astronomical Observatory in Niepołomice at Kopernika Street deserves special attention. It is mainly focused on popularising astronomy among the youngest. It runs extracurricular educational activities for children and young people in the form of interest groups: astronomy, multimedia, and a robotics workshop. The facility popularises astronomy and natural sciences. The Niepołomice Observatory was founded in 1964 by Zdzisław Słowik, a cultural animator, photographer, radio amateur, astronomy enthusiast and resident of Niepołomice. His persistence, determination and love of the night sky led to the foundation of the first Observation Pavilion on land belonging to the Primary School. In 2021, the Youth Astronomical Observatory in Niepołomice opened its doors again to lovers of celestial bodies after a lengthy renovation. It has room for a planetarium, an observation dome, seminar rooms, a lecture hall, a film and photography studio and accommodation. By the way, you can also see the Royal Castle in Niepołomice.

Queen Jadwiga's Private Astronomical Observatory Rzepiennik Biskupi

Magdalena and Bogdan Wszołków are a married couple of scientists that decided to bring their cosmic and astronomical dreams, circling somewhere between constellations and stars, to Earth. Thus, the Private Astronomical Observatory in Rzepiennik Biskupi (Tarnów County). It is the largest facility in Poland and the second largest in Europe. The facility has been under construction since 1998. The opening took place in 2015, when the Polish cosmonaut General Mirosław Hermaszewski, one of the most eminent cosmologists, Professor Michał Heller, and the famous astronomer Professor Virginia Trimble graced the event with their presence. The location of the observatory in Rzepiennik is not accidental. It is a beautiful place located in a very picturesque area in the foothills, and at the same time there are some of the best conditions in Poland for observing the sky. The main attraction of the observatory is a 9-metre American radio telescope, a satellite dish that, before it was moved to Rzepiennik, had worked for ten years at the Satellite Centre in Psary near Kielce. The second treasure of Rzepiennik is an American satellite earth station with a canopy diameter of 5.4 metres. The antenna used to work for the army in the Satellite Centre of Regional Operations in Komorów, and after the liquidation of the centre it was bought by the Wszołków couple. In addition, the observatory is equipped with optical telescopes. The aim of the observatory is not only world-class science but also popularisation and education. The Queen Jadwiga Astronomical Observatory is a place for "green schools", a centre for astronomy students' training, holding seminars and astronomy competitions, organising astronomy camps, individual scientific work, publishing activities and conducting specialist astronomical observations for scientific purposes. During the summer season, regular meetings with astronomy are organised. It is possible to observe telescope shows of the Sun, Moon and planets during the meetings. During the year, the observatory prepares, among others, shows of rare phenomena in the sky, rocket workshops, astronomical cross-country skiing, and astrophotography workshops. The latest initiative of the observatory was the delineation and opening in September 2021 of a trail called "108 minutes". The mysterious name is not accidental, as it refers to the first flight of Yuri Gagarin. The route allows you to learn about the history of the flight into space that Yuri Gagarin made 60 years ago.

Kraków's astronomical observatories

The first astronomical observatory in Poland was established at the Jagiellonian University in 1792. The eminent scientist Jan Śniadecki contributed to its construction and equipment. The Jagiellonian University Observatory has been functioning continuously from the year of its foundation until today. It has recorded and maintained the most extended uninterrupted series of meteorological observations. The first headquarters was located in a building in the Botanical Garden called Collegium Śniadeckiego. After World War II, the former starry house had to move because of its proximity to the shining city. Thanks to Professor Tadeusz Banachiewicz’s efforts, Fort Skała, on the western outskirts of Kraków, together with the surrounding area, was obtained from the army in 1953. Professor Banachiewicz organised and equipped an astronomical observatory there.

The observatory in Chełmiec, near Nowy Sącz

The Astro Centrum Astronomical Observatory combines tourist and educational assets. Apart from didactic aids such as models of planets, and the most powerful Saturn V rocket, it has an observation deck from which one can make observations and admire the panorama of the area. There is a 4-tonne globe by the amphitheatre building, which can be set in motion with one finger! It was built in the municipality of Chełmiec, near Nowy Sącz. The observatory has been in existence since 2019. Here you can see all the equipment and learn about different types of telescope construction. The centre has a professional telescope, thanks to which the universe is at your fingertips. Author lectures and presentations are available as part of the visit. After the lecture, you can visit the observatory, watch telescope shows, and observe the sun or the stars if the weather is good. An amphitheatre for 300 people was built next to the observatory, and it is possible to spread a screen, and then the image from the telescope can be seen by an even larger group of people sitting in the audience.