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Autumn Stargazing Opportunities Abound at UW Planetarium

August 31, 2017
photo of night sky with constellations outlined and labeled
Autumn brings a new family of constellations in the northeast skies: Queen Cassiopeia with her daughter, Andromeda, and Andromeda’s husband, Perseus. In clear, dark skies, look for the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy. These two spiral galaxies are on a collision course. Over the course of millions of years, the Andromeda Galaxy will appear larger in autumn skies. (UW Planetarium Photo)

With the fall semester back in swing, the University of Wyoming Harry C. Vaughan Planetarium provides plenty of opportunities for students to stargaze and learn more about our galaxy and beyond.

“Welcome back, students,” says Samantha Ogden, the planetarium’s coordinator. “As we settle into a new school year, join us at the planetarium to explore autumn stargazing and ground-breaking astronomical discoveries that are, literally, on the horizon.”

Friday planetarium shows during September start at 8 p.m., with a STAR Observatory tour scheduled to follow approximately an hour later. Kid-themed shows are scheduled Saturdays at 11 a.m. The month also includes four Tuesday night shows beginning at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $3 for students and $4 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.-4:30 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 in November 2014, 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.

The September planetarium schedule:

-- “Dark Matter, Dark Energy and the Fate of Our Universe,” Friday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. Recent experiments have shown that less than 5 percent of the universe is composed of normal matter such as electrons, protons and neutrons. UW Department of Physics and Astronomy Professor Danny Dale will discuss the other 95 percent of the universe: dark matter and dark energy, and how they impact the future of the cosmos. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “Max Goes to the Moon,” Saturday, Sept. 2, 11 a.m. Ever wonder what it's like to go to the moon? In this show, based on the award-winning children's book, "Max Goes to the Moon" by Jeffrey Bennett, this program will take visitors on just such an adventure. In this first book of the Max Science Adventure series, Max (the dog) and a young girl named Tori take the first trip to the moon since the Apollo era. Along the way, visitors will learn about the science of the moon and space. After the movie, visitors will have a chance to design and build their own rocket or spaceship.

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Sept. 5, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there is always something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, this program acts as a guide to these events and where to find them.

-- Full-dome movie: "Back to the Moon for Good,” Friday, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. Thanks to numerous landers and orbiters, mankind explored and learned a great deal about Earth’s closest neighbor in the 1960s and ‘70s. But, the U.S. has not been to the moon in more than 40 years. That is about to change. The 2013 full-dome feature, “Back to the Moon for Good,” follows numerous teams in competition to land on the moon and win the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. Designed to spark creativity and innovation in 21st century space travel, the XPRIZE is inspiring students and citizens to head back to the moon -- for good.  After the full-dome feature, visitors will explore the progress of the XPRIZE teams the past five years and what they plan to achieve by December. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “From Earth to the Universe,” Tuesday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m. The night sky, both beautiful and mysterious, has been the subject of campfire stories, ancient myths and awe for thousands of years. A desire to comprehend the universe may well be humanity’s oldest shared intellectual experience. Yet, only recently have we truly begun to grasp our place in the vast cosmos. Participants will learn about this journey of celestial discovery, from the theories of the ancient Greek astronomers to today’s grandest telescopes.

-- “Future Skies,” Friday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. The sun rises and sets each day; constellations change with the seasons; and planets march across the evening and morning skies. These are the motions of our solar system that humans have witnessed over centuries. But, the entire universe is constantly evolving on a timescale too long for humans to observe. Starting with the present day and ending billions of years from now, this program will show visitors the night sky’s evolution and how it will appear from Earth in the distant future. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- Full-dome movie: "Two Small Pieces of Glass,” Saturday, Sept. 16, 11 a.m. For thousands of years, ancient civilizations looked up at the cosmos and wondered what was up there. They saw thousands of stars, a few planets and the band of the Milky Way. But, that was as far as they could go. It wasn't until a scientist named Galileo Galilee pointed two small pieces of glass -- the first telescope -- up to the heavens and opened the universe up for human exploration. Visitors can watch the full-dome movie, “Two Small Pieces of Glass,” and learn about the history of telescopes and how they work. Visitors can stay afterward to create their own telescope.

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Sept. 19, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there is always something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, this program acts as a guide to these events and where to find them.

-- “The Weird, Bizarre and Stranger Things of Space,” Friday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m. The universe is good at making things that are difficult for humans to understand, but scientists keep at it in hopes of figuring out how it all works. But, every once in a while, the universe throws a curve ball -- a weird, bizarre and, sometimes, scary curve ball. Stars the same mass as the sun but the size of Laramie; planets made entirely of diamonds; and balls of fried ice cream orbiting the sun are just a few of the stranger things that will be explored in this show. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “From Earth to the Universe,” Tuesday, Sept. 26, 7 p.m. The night sky, both beautiful and mysterious, has been the subject of campfire stories, ancient myths and awe for thousands of years. A desire to comprehend the universe may well be humanity’s oldest shared intellectual experience. Yet, only recently have we truly begun to grasp our place in the vast cosmos. Participants will learn about this journey of celestial discovery, from the theories of the ancient Greek astronomers to today’s grandest telescopes.

To welcome families to UW’s Family Weekend, the planetarium will present four public shows:

-- “Greek Mythology,” Friday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m. Ancient civilizations used the night sky as a clock, calendar and storyboard for their unique mythologies. The 88 constellations that piece the sky together are dominated by ancient Greek mythology and the heroes, villains, gods and men featured in Grecian myths. This program will connect the dots to discover the characters that lie in these constellations and help astronomers navigate the night sky.

-- “Our Place in Time and Space,” Friday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m. You may sometimes wonder where we are in the universe. But, do you ever think “when” are we in the universe? This program takes a look at not only our physical place in the cosmos, but also the unique time in which we exist. From the Big Bang to the ultimate fate of our universe, this program will explore the Earth’s place in time and space. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “Introduction to Astronomy,” Saturday, Sept. 30, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. What constellations will be visible this autumn? What ever happened to Pluto? How many stars can we count in the night sky? How big is the universe beyond those stars? Perfect for aspiring astronomers and skygazers, this program introduces visitors to the wonders of our solar system, galaxy and universe beyond. After the show, visitors will have a chance to build their own star finder.


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