The U’s new Astronomy Outreach Center is reaching for the public and for the stars.
The center, located in the South Physics Building, had its grand opening in June with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and nearly 100 people in attendance.
Tabitha Buehler, professor, lecturer and Astronomy Outreach coordinator, said the crowd showed great interest in the subject matter.
“Everybody likes to hear about black holes,” Buehler said.
Buehler has been interested in astronomy for as long as she can remember — most likely due to growing up in a rural area with an abundance of visible stars on a clear night. She hopes this new program will bring excitement to the public about astronomy and the sciences in general.
“I think in a community, one of a university’s responsibilities is to reach out to the public … to get people excited about the different disciplines,” Buehler said. “Astronomy is something easy to get people excited about.”
Anil Seth, a professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy and faculty coordinator for the Outreach Program, gained interest in astronomy because it can be studied from a distance.
The Outreach Program, which teaches school groups, has struggled in the past to find classroom space for the program. The coordinators used different classrooms that did not always meet the needs of their presentations. They wanted a personal space to expand, so they moved forward with plans for the Astronomy Outreach Center.
The 18-month process of building the classroom space started when the physics and astronomy department pitched their idea of a campus-wide competition for a building grant, which was awarded to the Outreach Program. Once the grant was donated, the process of renovating a room in the old physics building began.
The classroom is near an observatory, which makes looking through telescopes and learning in the classroom an easier task. When the school year starts, the room will be used for classes such as an observational astronomy class. For students taking these courses, the department hopes to expand its use of telescopes, as they currently have seven telescopes for the public.
As part of the center’s interactions with the public, coordinators will host “star parties” on Wednesday nights, where patrons can look through the telescope after sunset.
Buehler said if it happens to be too cloudy to look through the telescope, there is another remote-controlled telescope in southern Utah. The Willard L. Eccles Observatory in Milford, five hours away from Salt Lake City, is being set up to take pictures and display them for star viewers at parties, since the sky is often clearer there.
Buehler is excited about the new features and is ready to engage the public in science.
“I feel like word will spread about the center and we will be seeing a lot of people,” Buehler said.