Star Parties

In a growing technological age, Americans have become increasingly detached from nature. In response, the SIUE department of physics now offers astronomical viewing parties to students and members of the Edwardsville community.

A recent study conducted by DJ Case and Associates, a public relations and marketing firm, revealed over half of American adults report spending less than five hours in nature each week.

The lack of engagement with nature is matched with a lack of astronomy education, according to research published in the Astronomy education journal. 

According to a study conducted by Northern Illinois University, approximately 94 million Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun and that each revolution takes one year.

Scientific literacy has steadily declined as public focus has shifted away from nature. Students have experienced a shift in their scientific interests. Natural sciences have been rapidly replaced with other scientific disciplines. 

If adults are spending less time immersed in nature, where and how are they spending their time? The answer is they are constantly immersed in technology. 

According to a survey conducted by Common Sense Media, the average person in the United States spends approximately 11 hours on technology each day. 

The increased dependency on technology coupled with a lack of time spent in the environment has contributed to the societal disconnect with nature, experts say. 

The star parties offered by the Department of Physics allow students to escape the grip technology has on them. Thomas Foster, physics professor and viewing coordinator, hopes to help students escape.

“Once we stop looking up and instead live looking down at screens, we lose all connection with reality.  Fortunately, looking up is easy, and the star parties are there to make that experience understandable,” Foster said.

The star parties revive the connection to nature and increase astronomical literacy.

 “[Attendees] observe specific astronomical objects in greater detail,” said Foster. “There will also be sky tours, where visitors are shown some common constellations.”

Anyone interested in attending a star party can find them at the William C. Shaw Sky Lab on the northern edge of the SIUE campus. There is a small sign located off North University Drive and south of the New Poag Road intersection. 

Follow the access road past the model airplane field and wooden picnic shelter. Then walk by foot to the viewing site by following marked posts. For a map of the entrance, refer to pages 2 and 3.

Avoid the use of headlights and flashlights as you near the observatory. External light sources might interfere with the technology used during the star parties and distract viewers.

For students seeking a more engaged role in the star parties, volunteers are welcomed. 

“I am always looking for volunteers to help in setting up telescopes and keeping the scopes in focus during the night,” Foster said. “Interested students should contact me for training with the telescopes.” 

The star parties are free and open to the public. The parties will begin on September 9 and run every other Tuesday until December 10. The exact time at which the parties will begin may vary, as it is dependent upon daylight hours. However, most of the parties will begin at 9 p.m. and conclude around 10 p.m.

Before attending a star party, confirm the event start time by contacting Thomas Foster at 618-650-3049.

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