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Observatory Tours to Augment Planetarium Shows During April

March 26, 2015
man seated at control panel looking up at planetarium display
Travis Laurance, director of the Harry C. Vaughan UW Planetarium, operates the control board during a recent star show. (UW Photo)

Visitors to the Harry C. Vaughan University of Wyoming Planetarium will not only be treated to programs about Jupiter and Neptune under the dome in April. They will be able to go outside and observe the night skies as well, perhaps catching a glimpse of those planets.

“We begin April with an introduction to objects you can see in the April night sky and, from there, we continue our planet series with shows dedicated to Jupiter and Neptune,” says Travis Laurance, the planetarium’s director. “We also are excited to introduce a tour of our rooftop observatory after select shows. The audience will be invited to our rooftop after the planetarium show to look through our telescope. We will do this every other week.”

The optional Rooftop Telescope Tours, which allow visitors to look through a 16-inch STAR (Student Teaching and Research) Observatory telescope, will be offered on Fridays when no laser light show is planned. The informal tours are free, and guests may leave at any time during the tour.

Tickets for planetarium shows cost $2 for students and $3 for non-students, and can be purchased at the Department of Physics and Astronomy main office, located in Room 204 of the Physical Sciences Building, Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-noon. Doors open 20 minutes before each show, where tickets will be sold if available. The planetarium, which seats 58, is located in the basement of the Physical Sciences Building.

Since the renovations were finished last November, the full-dome shows now provide immersive 3-D experiences. Traditional star shows have been replaced with far more interactive presentations, similar to an IMAX theater. Laser shows consist of three lasers (red, blue and green) that project graphics on the dome. The lasers are synchronized with music, and pre-programmed graphics and images are displayed.

Demand for tickets is still high, and all but two shows have been sold out since the planetarium reopened.

“We sold 57 out of 58 tickets for those shows. We still, occasionally, have to turn people away, but that has tapered off,” Laurance says. “I think the interest is still high, but I think guests have learned to plan ahead and buy tickets in advance if they want to come.”

The April planetarium schedule is as follows:

-- April’s Night Sky, Friday, April 3, 7 p.m. Take a closer look at what is happening in the sky and what to look for when you walk outside this month. Get your eyes, binoculars and telescopes ready, and take what you learn so that you can explore the night sky for yourself.  A Daft Punk laser light show follows at 8:20 p.m.

-- Messier Marathon, Saturday, April 4, 4 p.m. A popular amateur astronomy challenge is to locate and view as many of the 102 Messier objects in the course of a single night. While the event won’t try to cover all of them, some of the more notable objects such as large star clusters, distant galaxies and stellar remnants will be discussed.

-- Planet Series: Jupiter, Friday, April 10, 7 p.m. This edition of The Planet Series focuses on Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. Tour the Jovian Moons, prepare to find Jupiter through a telescope, and learn why human life on Earth might not have been possible without the gas giant world. A STAR Observatory tour follows at 8:20 p.m.

-- Planet Series: Neptune the Mystic, Friday, April 17, 7 p.m. The most distant planet in the solar system has enchanted astronomers since its discovery in 1846. In the conclusion of The Planet Series, the many oddities of this great, gassy blue giant -- such as its many unique moons, extreme surface climate and its extraordinary discovery -- will be discussed. A Laser Gaga laser light show follows at 8:20 p.m.

-- Movie: “Two Small Pieces of Glass,” Saturday, April 18, 4 p.m. From the moon to the outer solar system to the farthest objects in the universe, this movie will show all sorts of interesting and crazy things -- all with the help of the telescope. This show will examine some of the coolest discoveries of things close and very, very far away, and how the telescope has advanced science over the years.

-- That Which Gives Us Life, Friday, April 24, 7 p.m. This program will explore the current scientific hypothesis about the birth of the universe, the birth of stars and planets, and the birth of Earth. A STAR Observatory tour follows at 8:20 p.m.

For more information, go to and click on “Planetarium is Open!” on the left-side navigation bar, call (307) 766-6150, or email

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