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Open nights at Rutgers astronomical observatory incite interest in solar system

Rutgers students who attended an Astronomical Society event earlier this year not only observed the night sky, but created "nebula jars" with their hands.

Two to three times a month, the Rutgers Astronomical Society hosts open nights at the Robert A. Schommer Astronomical Observatory on Busch campus. Free and open to the public, the open nights are a way for anyone interested in astronomy to see a small part of our solar system.

A typical open night at the observatory begins at about 8 p.m. when the Astronomical Society points their 20-inch telescope at anything from the moon, to planets and constellations, as long as weather permits. The nights are occasionally canceled because of cloud coverage or rain.

There are also smaller telescopes along the roof that are also pointed at additional points of interest of the Serin Physics Laboratories.

The events are also designed to attract a large group of people. The main goal of the club is to be a simple conduit between people interested in “the vastness of space” and looking to discuss their interest, according to the Astronomical Society’s website.

A wide array of students find interest in astronomy, said Carlton Pryor, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.Therefore, open events attract more than just STEM students, which creates a very inclusive environment, aligning with the student organization’s goal.

“When I went we saw a constellation that is naked to the human eye,” said Tracey Miller, a Mason Gross School of the Arts first-year student, who went to the observatory for their “Gallery Craft” event earlier in the school year. 

That that particular event had crafts and games that made the night even more interactive and fun, Miller said.

The Astronomical Society's organization members help event-goers by explaining what the telescopes are showing and how the equipment works. At the event Miller went to, she said everyone running the event seemed very informed and were approachable so she could have easily asked questions if she wanted to.

The “Gallery Craft” event was also co-sponsored by the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA) and had over 1,000 people marked as either “interested” or “going” according to the Facebook event page. The event marked the first public open night of the semester, according to the event description.

The craft was creating a mini nebula jar necklace, which was provided by RUPA and inspired by the evening. Combining art and information, the event was a large success and had a strong turnout.

Students interested in astronomy can stay connected with what is happening by attending the club’s informative astronomy seminars that are held throughout the school year.

Students can also follow events on the observatory’s website as well as on the Astronomical Society’s Facebook page, Pryor said. There you can follow future events, weather-related cancellations and the club’s meetings.

“Astronomy has very wide appeal, lots of people are interested in the sky and what kind of world and universe we live in,” Pryor said.

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