The Kirkwood Observatory has open nights for the community every Wednesday from the week after spring break until the week before Thanksgiving break. At these open nights, community members can enter the observatory for free, look through the telescope and listen in on tours of the observatory from graduate students.
Brooke Kimsey-Miller, outreach coordinator and third year graduate student in IU’s Department of Astronomy, said anyone in the community can come to the free open nights. Community members can see planets such as Jupiter and Saturn from the dome in the observatory.
The observatory keeps the public updated on the schedule and weather conditions on its Twitter page, which can be found along with other important information on its website. Certain weather conditions, like clouds, can cause a cancellation, Kimsey-Miller said. They make the call about two hours before the scheduled opening, she said.
The observatory houses a 12-inch refractor telescope, which people can use to see planets, star clusters and the moon, Kimsey-Miller said.
“It looks like a sticker,” Kimsey-Miller said. “That’s how clear and crisp Saturn is when you get to see it.”
IU professor of astronomy Catherine Pilachowski said open nights are a long-running tradition of the department, since 1901.
Pilachowski said the open nights are an amazing way to share the observatory with everyone, including students, faculty, staff and the general public.
“One of the favorite things that I see at the observatory is that we get grandparents who are bringing their grandchildren to look at things in the sky with the telescopes,” Pilachowski said. “And those grandparents tell us that their own grandparents brought them to the observatory years ago.”
Open nights were postponed during the pandemic, Pilachowski said. Now, they’re opening safely by limiting the amount of people in the observatory at all times, she said.
The open nights are hosted by graduate students, Pilachowski said. These events give the students opportunities to learn how to better connect with the public and teach about astronomy, she said.
“Traditionally, astronomy is one of those sciences that really connects well with people,” Pilachowski said. “Who doesn’t like looking at the moon or Saturn? The observatory provides us an opportunity to help our own students develop the skills to communicate effectively with the public.”
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Madison Smith, Ph.D. student in the astronomy department, said it is a great opportunity for graduate students and the general public. Graduate students can practice giving tours, she said, while others can see things they have never experienced before.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to look through a telescope if you’ve never done it and to get to ask all of your questions you have about astronomy to people who should be able to answer basically anything you have to ask,” Smith said.