My God, It's Full of Stars...

4:45 am Oct 25 - by Allison Greaney

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Got some spare time? Of course not, you’re a college student.

Looking for new and interesting ways to procrastinate? Of course you are, you’re a college student.

So look up.

Astronomy has fascinated and baffled civilizations for centuries, most notably the ancient Greeks and Romans, who named the eight planets (sorry, Pluto) in our Solar System, and the mysteries of space are being researched now more than ever. Although modern-day string theory might be heavy reading, stargazing is an intriguing and free way to spend your evening.

You can always grab a blanket and head for the quad on a clear night or, if you’re feeling ambitious, check out the campus observatory for their monthly open houses. The University of Illinois Astronomical Society invites the public to visit the observatory and use the historical refracting telescope and other smaller telescopes to observe nearby planets, constellations and our moon at least once a month. If you’re not satisfied with simply looking through a lens, then you can join the Astronomical Society and be trained to use the telescope as well as attend biweekly meetings, special lectures and outings for optimal stargazing. (For more information on the UIAS you can visit uias.astro.illinois.edu/).

If you are more of an independent astronomer then I would recommend looking into purchasing a planisphere — a tool used by many amateur astronomers to recognize what constellations are visible in the sky during any given time. They’re pretty nifty. I am personally a fan of the computer program, Stellarium, which is free to download at www.stellarium.org, and will give you a 3D sky view at any given time and place. Again, very handy.

And if you have a few empty credit hours next semester, the best way to learn about our Universe is to simply take an astronomy class. I enrolled in Astro 100 the day before classes started my freshman year and I still consider it to be my favorite course. With course titles such as “Killer Skies: Astro Disasters” and “Extraterrestrial Life” you can imagine the astronomy department at the U of I is anything but boring.There are also 8-week, 1 credit hour labs that meet one night a week at the observatory where you learn how to use telescopes and, weather permitting, spend a good portion of the evening observing.

The U of I offers many great ways to explore astronomy, so get out there and take advantage of it!

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