The AstroTours

On the first Thursday of most months, the free Astronomy Public Tours, or AstroTours, are held by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. AstroTours start at 8:10 p.m. in the winter (October – April) and 9:10 p.m. in the summer (May – September). The Tour runs for approximately two hours, and consists of three parts: a talk, planetarium shows and telescope observing. In addition, we will occasionally run special AstroTours featuring world-famous speakers or celebrating amazing astronomical events. We aim to make the Tours accessible to a broad audience, and welcome university students, high school students, interested youth accompanied by adults and all others with a passion for astronomy to attend!


Credit: Dunlap Institute

The tour starts with an hour-long presentation by a doctoral student, postdoctoral fellow, or faculty member of our department. The range of topics is diverse, and include the hottest discoveries of modern astrophysics, the life and times of astronomers past, and sometimes even the science behind blockbuster films and science fiction. Our talks are meant for a diverse audience, and we try to keep the technical aspects of them to a degree understandable by high school students.

Mubdi Rahman weaves stories of astronomical discovery during the March 2011 AstroTour. Credit: Frankie Yau.
Dr. Michael Reid contrasting truth with worldview at the September 2010 AstroTour. Credit: Frankie Yau.
Dr. Ernst de Mooij demonstrates the transit method for detecting planets at the May 2014 AstroTour.

Planetarium Shows


Credit: Dunlap Institute

Following the talk, the evening continues with planetarium shows. Located in the basement of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Building, the 25-seat planetarium uses a fish-eye lens to project our digital planetarium catalog of Solar System, stars, galaxies and even the cosmic microwave background. Our software is not limited to the traditional Earth-bound view of the stars, and instead allows our attendees to experience everything the catalog has to offer from many vantage points. More information about the planetarium can be found on’s planetarium page.

Planetarium entryway. The planetarium dome is a GeoDome Theatre, and the projector uses the Uniview software, which was designed to display the Digital Universe catalog from NASA and the Hayden planetarium.
Etsuko Mieda leads a planetarium show during a 2010 AstroTour.
Neptune as projected by the planetarium. Credit: Lily Luan.

We offer a 15-minute planetarium show three times throughout the evening. Due to the limited size of the dome and time constraints, entrance to the first two planetarium shows requires registration. To obtain your free ticket, please use the “Sign up for AstroTour planetarium show” button. Instructions on where to meet for the show is included on the ticket page. Tickets for the third show are available after the talk on a first-come first-serve basis.

We currently allow planetarium registration only for groups up to five people. If you have a larger group, please see our FAQ for more information.

If you are interested in booking planetarium shows outside of the AstroTours, please go to’s planetarium page.


Credit: Dunlap Institute

Simultaneous to our planetarium shows, we offer tour of our telescopes on the roof of the McLennan Physical Labs building. Our collection of telescopes includes two observatory dome telescopes, an 8-inch refractor and a 16-inch reflector, as well as two portable telescopes we deploy on the building balcony, a 4-inch and 10-inch reflector. On clear nights, we may view such objects as the Moon, the planets of our Solar System, and star clusters with our smaller 4 and 8-inch telescopes. We often use the 10-inch to look at bright nebulae, and the 16-inch to look at fainter extended objects such as globular clusters and the Andromeda Galaxy.

On cloudy nights, viewing will be replaced by a virtual sky tour in the domes, and observing the Toronto skyline through our balcony telescopes.

The observatory domes at sunset.
The 8-inch refractor telescope. Manufactured by GOTO in 1965, it has a 300x magnification and features a tracking motor that compensates for the rotation of the Earth.
The computer operated 16-inch reflector. Manufactured by Boller & Chivens in 1965, it has a magnification of 100x, and can be fitted with a camera for long exposures.
Dr. Ilana MacDonald describes observations of galaxy M82 in front of the 16-inch telescope during our 2014 Supernova Extravaganza.
The computer-controlled 10-inch Meade LX200 reflecting telescope deployed in the McLennan Building 15th floor landing during a 2009 AstroTour. It features 50x magnification.
Dr. Renbin Yan operates the 4-inch Questar with solar filter attached during the 2009 Science Rendezvous. The telescope has 40x – 80x magnification.

Special Talks

In addition to our regular AstroTours, we also hold the AstroTours Keynote Lecture series, which brings astronomy luminaries and renowned public speakers from around North America to Toronto. Keynotes generally occur around May or June, and past speakers have included planet hunter Prof. David Charbonneau (Harvard/CfA), SETI scientist Dr. Jill Tarter (SETI Institute) and Pluto killer Prof. Mike Brown (Caltech). We also hold special AstroTours, such as the December 2012 Apocalypse talk, or our Supernova Extravaganza panel discussion, to commemorate important astronomical discoveries or celestial events. These special events usually have extended observing sessions and planetarium shows, as well as Ask an Astronomer receptions and activities of all sorts!

For those special talks that take place around sunset, we attach solar filters on some of our telescopes to observe the Sun. We also deploy the Meade Cornado H-alpha telescope, which we can use to easily view solar storms and sunspots.

A five-member panel discusses supernova SN2014J. From left to right: Prof. Marten van Kerkwijk, Charles Zhu, Dr. Wolfgang Kerzendorf, Kelly Lepo and Prof. Laura Chomiuk (MSU). Credit: Alison Rose.
A visitor peers through the H-alpha telescope during the 2012 AstroTour Keynote pre-show.
Prof. Mike Brown (Caltech) describes his killing of Pluto at the 2012 AstroTour Keynote.