FAQs about Visitor Nights at the UCI Observatory

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Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about Visitor Nights at the UCI Observatory:

  1. I hear the Observatory is closing - is that true?

    Yes, but don't dismay! The current UCI Observatory will close in August, 2014, and will be demolished to make way for new housing construction. However as part of the new construction a 1.5 acre park is being built, and we will construct a new, larger Observatory inside the park! We anticipate opening the new Observatory approximately 12 to 18 months later. So join us at our last Visitor Night at the current Observatory on June 21 to celebrate this historic event and join Friends of the Observatory to donate to help fund science outreach at the new Observatory.

  2. Do I have to register for Visitor Nights?

    No, registration is not required. However, it will help us greatly to prepare the correct number of photocopies of the night sky map and gauge the number of shuttle buses needed. You can go on-line here and let us know you are coming. We thank you for your help!

  3. Who pays for Visitor Nights?

    The Observatory is run by the department of Physics & Astronomy and Visitor Nights are sponsored by the Dean of the School of Physical Sciences. The grant that the dean gives us each year pays for the porta-potty, the shuttle buses, the directional road signs we put up on campus, and the salaries for the undergraduate and graduate students who volunteer at Visitor Nights. In addition, funding from a growing number of Friends of the Observatory also providing financial support for Visitor Nights. We encourage those who want to help to join Friends of the Observatory.

  4. Is there an admission fee for Visitor Nights?

    No. We do ask each family to donate $5 to the jar stationed at the entrance of the observatory dome, but this is only voluntary. This is to show the dean of the School of Physical Sciences their appreciation for our program and to help defray the costs of the porta-potty, shuttle bus, student volunteers, etc. that makes Visitor Nights such an enjoyable experience for everyone. However, because of the large number of people who attend a typical Visitor Nights  -- 400 is typical on a clear night -- we have to ask visitors to park in the nearest campus parking structure and that will cost you $2/hr or a maximum of $10. We pay for a shuttle bus to take you to/from the parking lot to the entrance to the Observatory's gravel road.

    If you appreciate our Visitor Nights, we heartily encourage you to join Friends of the Observatory. There are different levels at which you can join that will give you access to different and exciting events at the Observatory. Your donations will be used to fund Visitor Nights and could help us construct a brand new Observatory in the future!

  5. What should I bring to Visitor Nights?

    You will want to bring a flashlight to see as you walk down the gravel road that leads to the Observatory since we usually hold Visitor Nights when there is no moon visible and thus is very dark. Also bring a warm jacket or sweater to wear because even on summer nights it can be quite chilly at the Observatory once the sun sets. We do have benches and logs to sit on during the lecture, but those tend to fill up quite quickly, so you might also want to bring along a portable lawn chair to assure yourself a seat.

  6. If I have my own telescope, can I bring it along to Visitor Nights?

    Yes. We encourage visitors to bring along their own telescope to share with our visitors. The more, the merrier. If you are bringing telescope equipment then you can park out at the Observatory during Visitor Nights. Follow these driving directions. Just be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of Visitor Night so that you can set up your equipment before the crowd arrives and large numbers of people are walking down the gravel road. Just be sure to park your car diagonally off the gravel road and be sure to pull entirely off the road so that it is clear in case of emergencies.

  7. Are there special instructions for handicapped visitors?

    People bringing a handicapped visitor can also park at the UCI Observatory during Visitor Nights. We ask that you carefully drive down the gravel road, being on the lookout for others who are walking down the road when you arrive. Follow these driving directions. Feel free to find one of our volunteer staff members once you get there and ask for assistance.

  8. For what ages are Visitor Nights appropriate?

    Visitor Nights are appropriate for a wide range of ages.  What you get out of the lecture and looking through the telescopes obviously varies depending on your age and cognitive ability, but we find that even children as young as 3 years old have a great time at Visitor Nights.  Young children are excited just to be outside at night and they enjoy the new experience. Everyone is fascinated by seeing Saturn and its rings or other planets -- children, teens, adults and seniors. Children too young to sit and listen to the 25 to 30 minute long lecture can walk around enjoying the scenery during it, and, because we have so much open space around us, they don't provide much of a distraction.

  9. How do I get to the Observatory for Visitor Nights?

    See our Driving Directions page for details on how to get there.

  10. Are Visitor Nights ever canceled due to bad weather?

    Visitor Nights are only canceled if it is raining or if it has rained heavily that day. If it were canceled a notice would be posted on our website by 3 pm that day. Even if it is cloudy, Visitor Night still goes on. We still hold the lecture, you can still tour the inside of the Observatory dome to learn about how our main, 24-inch, computer-controlled telescope works, and you can walk the Scale Model Solar System that we set up in cases of bad weather. Even when it is cloudy, we still usually have 200 or so visitors that have a great time.

  11. What will we see through the telescopes at Visitor Nights?

    Because the Earth travels around the Sun in the course of a year, each month you can see different things in the night sky. That's why we typically offer Visitor Nights every other month or so. We usually highlight the faintest object with our most powerful telescope, the 24-inch telescope under the dome. However we also set up at least 4 other portable telescopes (8 to 12 inch Meade and Celestron GPS telescopes) in the gravel courtyard surrounding the dome, and each of them are pointed at an interesting object. We highlight planets in our Solar System, star clusters, nebula, and on some dark nights, we can see some of the nearest galaxies. At least once a year, we specifically hold a Visitor Night when the Moon is visible so that 3rd graders who are studying the Moon/Earth/Sun can see it in person. Check the page for each specific event on our Events page to see what will be visible that night.

  12. What will we learn about during the lectures?

    During each Visitor Night, we have a 25 to 30 minute lecture on a hot topic in astronomy and astrophysics -- a different topic is chosen for each night -- and the talks are given by professors, postdoctoral researchers or senior graduate students at UCI. The lecture usually highlight current research that people are carrying out at UCI. Check the page for each specific event on our Events page to see the title of the lecture for that night.

  13. Are restroom facilities available?

    We provide a porta-potty and a sink at the Observatory only during Visitor Nights at the Observatory. The nearest restroom facilities are located in the center of Gabrielino Park, which is located across the street (California Avenue) from the entrance to the gravel road that leads to the Observatory. This restroom is open during the day and evening, but locks automatically after 10 pm.

  14. Can I bring a large group of scouts or my K-12 grade class to Visitor Nights?

    We welcome everyone at Visitor Nights, which typically have 400 people attending. Because of the large attendance, if you want to bring a large group of scouts or a class that you are teaching, it would be much better to organize a tour of the Observatory just for your group. That way they can get more time with the telescopes and get their individual questions asked & answered. We offer tours of the observatory in a fee-for-service mode, meaning that we only charge you what it costs us to pay our undergraduate and graduate student volunteers and make photocopies of skymaps, etc. Thus we're very cheap! For more information, look here. If you do plan on bringing a large group to Visitor Night, we ask that you let us know ahead of time by RSVPing here.