Come and Star Gaze

Story by,

Mitch Waite
Every Wednesday, the Department of Physics & Astronomy, at the University of Utah, hosts a weekly star party at the South Physics Observatory.

The star party is an outreach project to help participants gain and spread knowledge about the solar system.  The Department of Physics & Astronomy has expert students who assist visitors in viewing the stars.  The South Physics Observatory is the only one of its kind in Salt Lake City.

“Our primary goal when we [U. of U. physics students] decided to host the start party was to reach out to people who want to learn more about astronomy, but don’t know how or where to start,” said Paul Ricketts, currently a student at the University of Utah, who is in charge of the star gazing every Wednesday night.

When asked about the number of participants, Ricketts stated “We are still reaching out to visitors; we still have plenty of room in the observatory if that’s what you’re asking.  However, those that come are amazed by what they see, and are anxious to return the following week.”

Visitors for the star gazing can come for free, and the agenda each night is to look at the stars.  Cierra Blair is another physics student at the University of Utah who educates and assists at the parties.  Blair said “Initially we wanted to implement some kind of an agenda or educational curriculum to give every night at the star party, but we began to notice that we would get new visitors whose needs and knowledge was different from others.”

Blair further mentioned that setting an agenda each night became difficult.  The current plan for the star party is to invite visitors to come with questions about the solar system and astronomy in general.  “We set up the telescopes on certain spots in the sky and wait for people to come ready to ask and learn about certain aspects of the cosmos,” said Ricketts.

Located on the University of Utah campus, the South Physics Observatory has been in use for more than 50 years.  According to the observatory’s website, it was built on the roof of the South Physics building in 1976.  In 2001, The Willard L. Eccles Foundation donated funds to purchase new telescopes, cameras, a spectrograph, and other items for the observatory, which is now on the roof of the South Physics building.

On any given night, there are four to six telescopes set up in the observatory for looking through.  The observatory can fit anywhere from 20 to 30 people in it.  Ricketts mentions that he still hopes that they can reach the maximum amount of occupants for the observatory before the last party on December 14th.

The star party, hosted by the Physics & Astronomy Department of the University of Utah, is an opportunity to go and gain knowledge about the solar system.  In the South Physics Observatory, physics students are eager to educate and instruct participants on functions of the universe.  It is an outreach project that many of the U. of U. physics student’s hope will continue into the future and help the Physics & Astronomy Department gain more support.