Public viewing nights explore solar system

For centuries, humans have gazed up at the night sky and wondered at the vastness of the stars and planets. 

Sonoma State’s Astronomy and Physics Department is inviting students, faculty and the general public to attend Public Viewing Nights, which are a series of free telescopic event that explores the mystery and beauty of the solar system.

The first Public Viewing Night is scheduled for this Friday from 9-11 p.m.  

The event meets at the Sonoma State observatory, located on the far side of the track, next to Petaluma Hill Road. 

Observers will be able to explore the Milky Way Galaxy, view Saturn’s rings and also some of Mars’s landscapes. 

If the weather permits, there are four public viewing nights scheduled this semester.

“This is a great opportunity to get a sense of how the night sky behaves and moves over time, ask questions to people in the know, and see what’s out there,” said visiting assistant professor and one of the event coordinators Dr. Thomas Targett. 

These events provide opportunities for everyone to learn more about outer space and be able to look up at the stars in a more meaningful way. 

The observatory is strategically placed in the darkest spot on campus. However, fog or thick cloud cover can completely negate the possibility of viewing outer space. 

Targett recommends bringing warm clothes, a flashlight, and a telescope if one is available. Complimentary hot chocolate and cookies will be served for all who attend. 

For an optimal viewing experience, Targett also recommends turning the camera flash off while taking pictures so participants’ eyes will be fully adjusted to the dark. 

There will be a brief presentation at the beginning of each event to show observers what to look for, and coordinators are available to help and answer any questions.

Junior, Samantha Eddy said, “It’s one thing to look up at the stars at night with just your eyes, but when you look through a telescope and see a star or a planet, it is the one of the most incredible sights.”  

The observatory is equipped with two main telescopes, a 12-inch and 14-inch mirror telescope along with a smaller 8-inch telescope, which are staffed by students and volunteers.

Former Sonoma State professor Joe Tenn, who retired in 2009, started the Public Viewing Nights. He often said that, according to Targett, “If you’re going to teach astronomy, you should at least teach students to look through a telescope.”

Junior Pete Widders, said “I have always been fascinated with outer space, the fact that there is a free opportunity to view the stars and planets with the guidance of knowledgeable staff and students is something I am very excited about.”

Each of the viewing nights has a specific theme based on what is visible on the given night. 

The dates, times and themes of the following three public viewing nights include: Oct. 10 from 8-10 p.m., Planetary Nebulae: Natures Watercolors, Friday Oct. 24 8-10 p.m., Globular Clusters: Ancient Relics, Friday Nov. 21 7-9 p.m., Uranus, Neptune and the Blue Snowball.

If it appears that fog or clouds will force a cancellation, participants are encouraged to call Sonoma State’s Physics and Astronomy info line at (707) 664-2267. 

Further information is also available at the Physics and Astronomy web page.