by ANNIE FURMAN
Even though it is true that the Astronomy department is one of the smallest at Drake University, they still find big ways to make a presence on and off campus. The astronomy department accomplishes this by offering a variety of courses for all students, as well as operating the Drake Municipal Observatory, which is open for students and is the backbone of the department’s constant outreach projects. The observatory is the bridge that keeps the faculty and students involved in the community.
The astronomy department has an introductory class, ASTR 001 Descriptive Astronomy, which, according to the Drake University AOI requirement list, fulfills the “scientific literacy” requirement. This class is offered to all students and has an optional lab that meets once a week in Harvey Ingham Hall. For students who are interested in majoring in Astronomy, ASTR 001 is just the beginning of their journey. According to the department’s website they offer classes ranging from Astronomical Techniques all the way to Astrophysics 2.
However, class isn’t the only place you can find Drake’s astronomy students. Drake University actually has its own observatory which is co-owned by the school and the city of Des Moines, according to the observatory’s website. The Drake Municipal Observatory is located approximately 10 minutes away from Drake’s campus on the Waveland Golf Course. The observatory hosts weekly public nights that are free to the public and consist of a lecture that is followed by star gazing on the roof, weather permitting. The first public night of the fall semester is on Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. The full schedule for public nights can be found on the Drake Observatory website. The staff members of the observatory are made up of Drake faculty and astronomy students. The Drake Observatory is also a great resource for students doing research since the building can be made accessible to them throughout the week as needed.
The department still does more to be active. Drake’s astronomy students are also making a push to become more involved in the community. In the last academic year, they have presented at local elementary school STEM days, organized and hosted star parties and increased public awareness of the observatory as well as Drake University’s STEM programs.
It is not uncommon for people to have a general interest in the subject of astronomy but not have access to telescopes or tools that are needed to get a really good view of the sky. Having students and the department share tools, techniques and knowledge with the community is a way to make sure everyone has the chance to view the night sky in the best way possible. After all, whether we like it or not, astronomy has an effect on us all as we live our daily and nightly lives.