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Group Visits to McCormick Observatory

The Leander McCormick Observatory is open to educational groups with advanced reservations on the SECOND and FOURTH Friday nights of every month. Groups must fill out an online form to schedule a visit. PLEASE NOTE: Filling out a form does NOT confirm your visit. After submitting your form, we will be notified with your details. You will receive a phone call to the number you provide within 3 business days. We will confirm your visit details with you, after which we will confirm your reservation.  If you cannot access the form, please email to contact our office. Group nights are reserved quickly; it is advisable to reserve a group night at several months in advance.

Online Form

Group Nights are intended for educational groups only. Such groups include:

  • School groups (public, private, and homeschool)
  • Scouting organizations 
  • Hobby groups or local interest clubs
  • Assisted living or retirement communities
  • Local college alumni chapters
  • Affinity groups (C'ville Pride, Black C'ville, etc.)
  • Religious organizations & places of worship (Special events only. The Observatory cannot accommodate regular worship requests.)
  • After-school programs (Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, 4H, etc.)


The following cannot be accommodated during group nights:

  • Families for a private event*
  • Private business events
  • Events that would be disruptive or damaging to the interior or exterior of the Observatory
  • Organizations or individuals that do not have an educational purpose to their mission

*Family units of up to 5 people can register for a public night. If you have more than 6 people in your family, please contact us for guidance. If you are interested in additional access to the observatory for your family, we invite you to join the Friends of McCormick Observatory

The Astronomy Department can be contacted at (434) 924-7494, or by email at

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Planning your Visit 

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How does registration work?

Your group organizer should fill out the linked form above. Once this is complete, it will be sent to our administrative staff. You should receive a call or email within 3 business days regarding your visit request. Your trip is not confirmed until you hear from us.

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Is there a fee for visits?

Nope! All groups visits are absolutely free. 

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What kind of vehicles can the observatory accommodate?

We have room for around 30 cars, and we can also fit full and half-sized buses. 

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How should I organize my event?

The group organizer should have a date or time of year in mind before submitting a request to us, as well as an estimate of how many people would be attending. From there, complete the steps to confirm your visit with our administrative staff. Once your visit is confirmed, the rest of the organizing is up to you; transportation, permission slips or waivers, chaperones, and similar details should be handled by the group organizer. Learning material may also be considered, especially for school and scouting groups.  

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I'm not sure if my group qualifies as an "educational group." What should I do?

Feel free to contact the Astronomy Department by calling 434-924-7494 to speak with our administrative staff. 


At the Observatory

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Is the clear-bag policy in effect at the Observatory?

No. The clear bag policy only applies to large-scale events hosted by the University like sporting events, graduation, concerts, etc.

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Are masks required at the Observatory?

As of March 28, 2022, masks are OPTIONAL for people (both UVA staff and visitors) in UVA academic buildings. Some will be available for those who prefer to wear one, but they are not required. Observatory personnel may or may not be wearing masks, as it is up to the individual's personal preference. Additionally, you are NOT required to show proof of vaccination.

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Are restrooms available?

Yes- restrooms are available to all visitors. Please note, the restroom is on the first floor of the observatory at the bottom of a steep staircase. Visitors with difficulty maneuvering stairs may have difficulty accessing the restroom.

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Can I bring food?

We ask that all visitors are respectful of the space, which includes limiting the amount of food and drink you bring the the Observatory. Drinks with a lid and food in an closed container are permitted.

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Is smoking permitted?

In accordance with UVA Policy SEC-028, smoking and vaping is not permitted in or outside the Observatory. Please refer to the policy for more information. 


Changes of Plans

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What happens in the event of bad weather?

In the event of cloudy or rainy weather, we offer our groups to have their visit as scheduled. This includes a slightly longer lecture from the astronomer and time to explore the dome room and museum. While you can't look through the telescope, you still get to learn about our facilities and history. If your group's central focus is viewing objects through the telescope, we are more than happy to reschedule your visit.

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Are Group Nights ever canceled?

Group Nights are canceled in the event of severe weather, including thunderstorms, snow, ice, extreme cold, tornado warnings/watches, etc. Canceled visits will be communicated to the group organizer, and we will work with you to reschedule your visit.

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Some members of my group are sick/have been exposed to COVID-19. What should I do?

If any of your group members are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19, we ask that these visitors do not come to the observatory. UVA is following the CDC recommendations around COVID-19, and more can be found on their website.


Other Questions

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Can I visit McCormick Observatory on a night when there isn't a Group Night?

No- The Observatory is closed to the public on non-public nights. Accessing the grounds after dark is considered trespassing; the area is monitored by video surveillance and the observatory caretaker. If you have a special request, please call the Astronomy Department to speak with our staff. Otherwise, trespassers will be asked to leave upon arrival. These measures are in place to maintain the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and scientists. 

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I want to host a special event at the Observatory that doesn't qualify as an educational visit. What should I do?

If you have an event you would like to host that doesn't have an educational element, you may speak to our administrative staff. Some events can be accommodated with a donation to the Observatory. Email with your requests.


Heidi's Nights

During months that have a fifth Friday, the Observatory hosts Heidi's Night, an evening reserved for school-age kids and their families. This is a family event, limited to 40 participants at the McCormick Observatory. The Charlottesville Astronomical Society (CAS) sets up stations in the classroom, the dome room, the doghouse, and the yard, The group of 40 visitors is divided into five groups of eight. Each station focuses on one object or topic for 15 minutes and then the groups move on to the next station. At the end of the evening, attendees have learned 5 things in the night sky. Prior registration is required. Please contact the department via email (

Heidi's Nights in 2023:

  • March 31, 2023, 9-11pm
  • June 30, 2023, 9-11pm
  • September 30, 2023, 9-11pm
  • December 29, 2023, 7-9pm

These evenings are named after Heidi Winter, a dedicated astronomy educator who passed away in 2012. Heidi was born in New York City in 1948, and spent her childhood in northern New Jersey. She lived in Montana, Florida, and eventually moved to Charlottesville in 1991. There, she worked as an executive secretary at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and joined the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. She also loved fine art and poetry and was an avid supporter of local artists and musicians. She is remembered as a warm, caring, and enthusiastic supporter of astronomy and the arts in Charlottesville and beyond.

Heidi Winter