Public Telescope Viewing
Currently the Tate Laboratory of Physics & Astronomy is under construction for much needed renovations. Don't worry — the rooftop dome and historic telescope will remain safe and sound! During the renovation period the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics will be discontinuing the Friday Public Night series and are instead teaming up with the folks at the Bell Museum to bring you stargazing and much more!
Join us every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month (check the schedule below) at the Bell Museum. Similar to our Friday Public Night series, there will be a presentation followed by outdoor observing (weather-permitting) in the courtyard behind the Bell Museum. You will have the chance to observe some of the same celestial objects that have inspired sky-gazers throughout history!
The presentation and outdoor observing are free to attend.
The public viewing is scheduled every 1st and 3rd Friday during the University's Fall and Spring semesters. A presentation will be given at each event regardless of the weather, so we will always have something for you. Observing will follow the presentation if the weather is acceptable (clear with wind chill above -15° F, see the FAQ below for additional details).
|March 3||8:30–9:30pm||March 17||8:30–9:30pm|
The presentation portion of each event will be held in the Bell Museum's auditorium. Enter through the side doors off of Church Street (the main doors will be locked). Public observing will be held in the courtyard behind the Bell Museum.
Often, girl scout troops and various other groups enjoy attending our public viewing nights. If you would like to bring a large group (more than 15) to public viewing or if you wish to request a separate presentation for your group, contact our Public Outreach Coordinator at least three weeks prior to the desired observing session.
The Bell Museum is accessible via a ramp at the south side entrance.
- Why are there no more Friday Public Nights?!
--The Tate Laboratory of Physics & Astronomy is currently closed off and under construction for a much needed remodel. During this time there is no access to the building — that includes the dome on the roof! Once the remodel is complete we will hopefully resume our regular program.
- When do you have public viewing
--We will have public viewing on the first and third Friday of the month starting in September, though you should check our schedule to confirm. Also, please note that we do sponsor a public viewing program over the summer called Universe in the Park.
- When does the observing (not the presentation) start?
--Observing begins whenever the presentation ends, weather permitting. The presentations take roughly 30 minutes, but can be slightly shorter or longer depending on the topic. Pending favorable sky conditions, observing should therefore begin by about 8:30 pm.
- Is the starting time affected by Daylight Savings Time?
--No, the viewings begin at 8:30pm regardless of the time of year or if Daylight Savings is in effect. Because we do not hold viewings in the middle of summer when the days are at their longest, the Sun always sets sufficiently enough for the observing portion of the event to begin at 8:30pm year-round.
- Can I come after the 8:00pm starting time?
--Absolutely, but with a caveat. Historically, most people have shown up at the start. If the sky conditions are unfavorable or everyone in attendance has gotten tired and left for the night, the presenters may close up early as there is no precedent to expect late arrivals. If you anticipate being late and want to ask if the presenters can wait for you, you can try emailing the speakers for that night.
- How can I find out if viewing through the telescopes will happen?
(Is the weather good enough for viewing?)
--The weather conditions and forecast are assessed throughout the day by that week's presenters, but the final decision on if the telescopes will be open or not is made immediately following the conclusion of the weekly presentation.
You are also free to make your own assessment of the weather using any resource available to you, be it the local news, a weather website such as the National Weather Service, weather.com, AccuWeather, or anywhere else with weather information (our zip code is 55455). The Clear Sky Chart is also a useful tool used by our presenters and by astronomers worldwide. Some general guidelines are:
- If it is completely clear, observing will most likely happen.
- If there is precipitation or the skies are overcast, observing will not occur.
- If it is mostly clear, with only a few clouds (<50% cover), observing will likely occur with some short interruptions
- If it is mostly cloudy (>50% cover), individual stars may still be visible through gaps in the clouds, but it is impractical to observe in such conditions, and observing may not occur.
As a result of all of the above, we cannot guarantee that observing will be possible on any given night and it is left to your own judgement whether or not you wish to travel to campus and incur any related costs such as parking and gas (the events themselves are free). If you have come to the event and the presenter determines that the telescopes will not be open, please respect their decision as they have made it with consideration for the safety of both our guests and the equipment, and many of the factors that go into the decision are beyond their control.
- Why are even partly cloudy skies disruptive to observing?
--Many guests are disheartened when we do not observe even though a few stars can be gleaned through the gaps in the clouds. Although these stars are visible, several factors contribute to why this is considered poor observing conditions:
- The few stars that are visible are most likely very plain stars that are not enhanced in any meaningful way when viewed through a telescope: they would still be simple points of light that look no different than what your eye sees, except for being brighter.
- Trying to find a more interesting object is hard without the other stars as reference points. It's like trying to drive from city A to city B when you only know the general location of B without a map, and the map you do have had ink spilled on it covering 90% of the roads to get there.
- Even if we could find a more interesting object, the moving clouds cover the area quickly despite it being clear a minute ago. It is for this reason such gaps are often called "suckerholes", because you're a sucker if you think you can beat the clouds. The very small and impractical viewing windows can quickly become stressful both for presenters and for the guests when one person wants to hog the eyepiece for the chance to get a better look that never comes.
These are the main reasons we don't observe in some partly cloudy skies. We understand the disappointment of our guests when observing doesn't happen: we're disappointed too, especially when the weather is teasing us like this. But we hope you understand why we make our decision to cancel observing in these conditions, and that you're able to join us again when we have better luck with the weather.
- What kinds of objects will be visible?
--Depending on the time of year and weather conditions, our presenters usually look for the Moon and planets (if they are up), bright stars, binary stars, star clusters, and the occasional nebula or galaxy (the light pollution from the metro area limits us to only the brightest ones). On a clear night, you can actually see a great variety of interesting objects. The Minnesota Starwatch newsletter, updated monthly, describes the objects that should be visible in clear skies.
- What sort of equipment will be used?
Depending on the number of visitors, we observe with one or two 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescopes. Many of the objects we observe can also be seen quite well in modest binoculars (7X50 or 10X50 binoculars offer a good balance between power and weight for casual observing without a tripod), and we have a couple of pairs that we usually provide at events.
- Can I bring small children to the viewings?
--Of course, and we encourage it! However, we must respectfully ask that you be able to exercise full control over them for their own safety and that of our guests. Once observing begins, the telescope dome and roof can be quite dark and crowded with people and equipment around the floor creating tripping hazards. Be cautious and respectful. We have stools available to provide a height boost for our shorter guests.