Learmonth Solar Observatory was established by agreement between the Australian and United States Governments in October 1977 and operations commenced in April 1979. Joint operation is conducted by IPS Radio and Space Services, an Australian government agency under the previous Department of Trade, Tourism and Industry, and the United States Air Force (USAF). LSO now comes under the Bureau of Meteorology. Located on North West Cape, Western Australia (22.2 S, 114.1 E), the site overlooks Exmouth Gulf to the east and Cape Range to the west.

LSO is part of a network of solar observatories (the Solar Electro-Optical Network, SEON) established by the USAF in various locations around the world, and one of two solar patrol observatories in Australia (the other being in Culgoora, NSW). Chosen for clear skies, the site averages over 9 hours of sunshine per day. The Observatory is staffed seven days per week, from sunrise to sunset. Staff include analysts to monitor and interpret observations, maintenance technicians, scientists and administrators.

Learmonth Observatory operates optical and radio telescopes to monitor the Sun. In collaboration with Geophysics Australia, magnetometers are operated to sense geomagnetic effects of solar activity. An ionosonde is also used to probe the state of the Earth's upper atmosphere.