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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Party with the stars

By Edgar Zuniga Jr.

The constellations in the sky have fascinated people around the world from the beginning of time to the 21st century. U students and members of the community continue to feed their curiosity today with weekly stargazing parties on campus.

A handful of students, faculty and community members gather atop the South Physics Building near Presidents’ Circle every Wednesday for stargazing parties where they observe Jupiter, its moons, nebulae and different constellations. The Department of Physics holds these free star parties every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. if the weather permits. The parties last two to five hours.

Paul Ricketts and Greg Engh, who serve as observatory curators and stargazing party conductors, said Jupiter will be visible for another month and that other planets, nebulae and constellations are visible depending on the time of year.

“Anyone interested in astronomy or anyone who has never seen anything through a telescope should come,” said Ricketts, a senior in physics. “We have the resources, and we can teach people the basics of astronomy and look at the stars.”

People have gathered at the U’s observatory, which has changed locations throughout campus, for more than 50 years. Ricketts said some elderly visitors visited the U’s observatory as children.

“I like stargazing. I’ve been coming here for about a year now and have seen Mercury, many other planets, nebulae and so much more,” said Mary Hall, staff member at the Utah Museum of Natural History. “I’d recommend it. It’s beautiful.”

Although both have worked at the observatory for more than one year, Ricketts and Engh have been long-time visitors. Both star party conductors said they enjoy explaining the basics of astronomy and are responsible for the maintenance of the observatory’s telescopes.

“These two guys are very knowledgeable,” said Chris Zimmer, a senior in physics. “I’d recommend people come up here (and) look at the stars.”

The U’s public observatory, which is one of the few of its kind in Salt Lake City, is home to six telescopes varying in size from eight to 14 inches in diameter. The 14-inch telescope is housed in the observatory’s sky dome on the roof of the Physics building, but it is currently under repair, Engh said.

Ricketts said telescope prices range from $2,000 to more than $6,000. The Department of Physics bought the telescopes in 2001 with funds from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.

The observatory also holds star parties in conjunction with the U’s Museum of Natural History on the first Monday of every month at 5:30 p.m. The museum conducts short physics presentations and a museum tour, then takes visitors to the Physics building to stargaze. The observatory also holds tours for local Boy Scout groups throughout the year.

Students can be trained to use the telescopes at the U’s observatory through Physics Department courses 2060 and 4060. The U also offers a minor in astronomy and hopes to offer a major in the future, according to the observatory’s website,

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