June 5, 2014 – The University of Utah has a new location for people who enjoy outer space. The Astronomy Outreach Center will begin operating at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 11 with an open house, a brief lecture and a party to observe the sun and stars.
The university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has held star parties for years on the roof of the South Physics Building. The new space— located in room 408 below the rooftop observatory— finally provides a permanent, roughly 30-seat gathering place for astronomy presentations and demonstrations for the public, K-12 students, scouting and community groups and private and public star parties.
“In the past, when a school group would want to come to us and have a presentation or activity, we would have to search around for a classroom not in use at a given time. This often wouldn’t work,” says astronomer Tabitha Buehler, coordinator of the new center and head of a university astronomy outreach group known as the AstronomUrs.
“Now we have a space that is dedicated to public outreach, so we can accommodate more groups,” says Buehler, who is also an assistant professor-lecturer in physics and astronomy. “One responsibility of the university is to reach out to people and educate them about the different exciting things up here.”
The idea for the Astronomy Outreach Center began when former physics and astronomy chair Dave Kieda, now dean of the U’s Graduate School, and Harold Simpson, the department’s facilities director, were devising new ways to improve the department and get it more involved with the community, Buehler says.
The center also will be the base for remote-controlled operations of the university’s Willard L. Eccles Observatory at the 9,600-foot level on Frisco Peak in southern Utah.
The June 11 opening will feature public use of solar telescopes at 7 p.m., a brief presentation about the sun at 8:40 p.m. followed by a public star party.
Free parking will be available after 6 p.m. in the two parking lots east of the South Physics Building. More details and a map are located here.
To request and schedule a public astronomy event— either at the Astronomy Outreach Center or off-campus— schools, community organizations and other groups should email the center.