Public Telescope Viewing
Observe some of the same celestial objects that have inspired sky-gazers throughout history!
Please note: Due to the University's temporary closure, Public Observing Nights have been suspended until further notice.
Join us every Friday night (check the schedule below) for rooftop observing through our historic telescope in the dome of the John T. Tate Hall. There will be a presentation followed by outdoor observing (weather-permitting). You will have the chance to observe some of the same celestial objects that have inspired sky-gazers throughout history!
Afterwards, if weather allows, attendees have the opportunity to view the sky through multiple 8-inch reflecting telescopes, operated by the staff and provided by the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics. Additionally, we provide free star maps (e.g. www.skymaps.com) and are happy to show visitors how to use them. Throughout the evening, we encourage questions from the audience and enjoy discussing topics ranging from backyard astronomy to the latest scientific discoveries.
The presentation begins at 8:00pm in the Tate Laboratory of Physics, room 101. Telescope observing usually begins around 8:25-8:30pm upstairs in Tate 510.
The presentation and outdoor observing are free for all to attend!
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, please email the outreach coordinator at email@example.com at least three weeks prior to the desired observing session.
Frequently Asked Questions
We will have public viewing every Friday during the school year, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These are only general guidelines, and observing may not occur for several other factors, or be limited to only a few bright objects. These include but are not limited to the cold temperature cutoff, threat of impending storms, high humidity, or the dominant cloud type (i.e. cirrus, cumulus, etc.). Conditions may also change quickly as the night goes on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The public viewing is scheduled every 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 above for additional details). For other questions, please email the outreach coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The presentation begins at 8:00pm in the Tate Laboratory of Physics, room 101. After the presentation, we move up to Tate 510 where we can access the telescopes on the roof deck and the historic 10.5" refractor in the dome. Telescope observing usually begins around 8:30pm.