The Astronomy Department operates a heliostat on the lower observing deck of the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building (PMA) on the campus of the University. The heliostat, or solar telescope, has a movable mirror that tracks the sun and then reflects the sun's light to a stationary mirror which sends it down to the 13th floor through a focusing lens. The projected image is displayed in the Astronomy lab room, PMA 13.132 where the sun's disk can then be safely observed and sunspots can be viewed. During special events, such as a solar eclipse, the observing room may be opened to the public. Area teachers and homeschool co-ops may request a visit to the heliostat as part of a field trip to the astronomy department.
* The tour usually includes a look at the sun and a slide show and talk about the sun (including sunpots and solar storms) and a look at the night time telescope on the upper-level roof. Content can be customized for ages and specific subjects the teacher may want covered.
* The field trip can still be conducted if weather prohibits solar viewing. In the case of severe weather, groups may not be able to visit the roof.
* Tours usually last 1 hour, but may run longer depending on group size and number of questions. Plan for 90 minutes to allow for elevator wait time and other logistics.
* There is no charge for field trips.
* Tours can be geared towards any age group from 2nd to 12th grade
* The number of students that can be accommodated at once is about 40-50 depending on the age of the students.
* Tours are typically scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
For additional information or to make a reservation, please contact Lara Eakins at (512) 471-1307 or through email.
Typically the summer schedule is posted in May, the fall schedule is posted in August, and the spring schedule is posted in January.
Directions to the building and instructions for booked tours.