Enjoy an evening under the stars

Saturn's rings, Jupiter's moons and many other wonders of our solar system can be seen up close and personal during Thursday evening observatory shows, high atop McCollum Science Hall.

"The shows are a great chance to learn about what's in the sky and see some objects that are only visible through a telescope," said Siobahn Morgan, earth science department head and professor of astronomy. "People tend to be surprised by how detailed features, such as those on the surface of the moon, appear through the telescope."

Observatory shows at UNI are held at 8 p.m., rain or shine, through Nov. 21. Shows last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

Observatory shows are held at 8 p.m., rain or shine, and last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Participants are encouraged to arrive by 7:30 p.m. at the preshow gathering spot, which is outside room 137 in McCollum Science Hall. (Those who forget the room number need simply look for the taxidermied polar bear in the east hall of McCollum to find fellow attendees.) From there, a UNI student escorts guests safely to the rooftop observatory.

The free shows, which are open to members of the campus and Cedar Valley communities, began in late August and will run through Thursday, Nov. 21. Shows resume during the spring 2014 semester on Thursday, March 27, and run for six weeks, through Thursday, May 1. There are no shows during the summer months.

Attending an observatory show is part of the UNI Traditions Challenge, which includes a list of must-do's students should take advantage of before they graduate. The list includes such things as attending a student musical performance, touring the UNI botanical center and having a picture taken with UNI mascot TC. Morgan said students who attend an observatory show receive more than a checkmark in their Challenge book, however. "They also learn that there's so much more to a university education than just going to class."

If learning about our solar system from ground level is more appealing, astronomy shows are held indoors on Thursday evenings in UNI's planetarium, 105 Latham Hall, during Iowa's chillier months. The 30-minute shows begin in January and end in March, right before spring break. Twenty-five guests can attend the free planetarium shows, which begin promptly at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

When the house lights go down, guests can recline in comfortable chairs, gaze up and imagine that the planetarium's rounded ceiling really is covered with countless stars, constellations and galaxies. UNI students lead the free shows, which are open to members of the UNI and local communities.

"Guests learn about what's in the night sky, how to find constellations and the North Star, and their orientation to the North Star," said Morgan. "And, we hope they gain an appreciation of what they're seeing as well."

For more information about the observatory and planetarium shows, contact Morgan at 319-273-2389 or siobahn.morgan@uni.edu or visit www.uni.edu/earth/.