FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Date: February 20, 2001

Contact: Donna McCracken

UIS Star Parties scheduled for people with disabilities

SPRINGFIELD - This spring, the University of Illinois at Springfield’s popular Star Parties will feature three sessions especially for people with disabilities. Beginning at 8 p.m. and weather permitting, the sessions are scheduled for Sundays, March 4, April 1, and April 29, in the UIS observatory. Participants will be able to view the Orion Nebula, the birthplace of stars and one of the most beautiful sights in the sky that can be seen with a telescope; Sirius, the "dog star," brightest object in the nighttime sky; Saturn, the ringed planet; Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system; and the moon, when visible.

The Star Parties, conducted by UIS professor of astronomy and physics Charles Schweighauser, use a telescope specially designed to give people with disabilities access to the sky. The modified eight-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope employs a traditional optical design with one very unusual feature — a fixed eyepiece. The image is brought to the viewer by means of the fixed focal point; he or she needs only to take a position at the eyepiece.

"The eyepiece can be moved backward and forward in its tube as much as seven inches without refocusing," Schweighauser explained. "It’s mounted to swing through a 30-degree arc to accommodate anyone from a large person in a high wheelchair to children in the lowest and smallest wheelchairs."

State-of-the-art software runs the telescope from a laptop computer, eliminating the need for a large keyboard and monitor that can emit too much distracting light on the dark observation deck.

Reservations for these Sunday sessions are required. For more information or to make a reservation, contact Schweighauser at 206-6721 no later than March 1.