For more than 40 years, thousands of people have come to UIS to look up at the stars.
Friday Night Star Parties have been held since 1980 and are a chance to learn about galaxies, the sun, stars and stellar evolution. Celestial objects that have been viewed over the years through the telescopes atop Brookens Library include the moon, planets, constellations and the Orion Nebula, among many others.
John Martin, associate professor of Astronomy-Physics at UIS, said he’s missed being able to hold Star Parties in person during the pandemic, but has pivoted to offer them virtually to whomever will tune in.
He looks forward to the day Star Parties can be held in person again so he can welcome back the eager children who ask the best questions during the events, as well as show off the recent improvements that have been made to the Star Party deck.
Thanks to generous community donations, the original Star Party deck atop the library was replaced in 2020 with composite decking materials. The $150,000 project used the existing footing to minimize the cost and moved the entrance to the deck to allow for better crowd management; bumped out the southwest corner of the deck to allow more space and accommodate future changes to one of the telescope enclosures; and moved the storage shed off the deck and the benches closer to the wall to allow more space on the deck.
“Astronomy is something that seems to interest people,” Martin said. “Star Parties, even astronomy research here at UIS, it’s community driven. Donations are just another way people can be involved. I’m happy with all that support.”
And the deck was just phase one of the hoped-for improvements Martin would like to see for the Star Parties. Phase two would address accessibility issues for the Sunday Night Star parties, which are for people who have trouble with steps or use wheelchairs. That program has been offered for decades but the ramp to the roof door is no longer compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That telescope is very unique,” Martin said about what makes that program valuable. “Someone in a wheelchair can wheel up to it, and the eyepiece can be brought to the person. There’s only one other telescope like it in the world.”
Phase three would re-imagine the enclosure to the 14-inch telescope dome, with a design to come that would preserve the iconic dome itself. And phase four would be transforming the interior space for a staging area in case the deck is ever used as a general event space. Martin said he dreams about a classroom next to the observatory to teach astronomy labs as well.
Since Brookens Library will be renovated after a new building is constructed on campus to house the library, Center for Academic Success & Advising, Career Development Center, and Information Technology Services, Martin hopes that’s possible.
People should donate, Martin said, because it is a local, community focused program.
“I’m not running a program for a country or the world or Illinois, I’m focused on Central Illinois. People who want to give to community outreach, kids, education, we are a good thing for that. We take the public affairs mission of the university seriously. Star Parties are one of the few free, family friendly, science-oriented events out there.”
To learn more about Star Parties or to donate to the deck renovation effort, visit go.uis.edu/aspfundraising