Education and Public Outreach Program
In addition to educating undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia, the Astronomy Department has an Education and Public Outreach program that addresses astronomy and science education for the general public, families, and students in grades K-12.
Public Outreach Program
Our public outreach program centers on the historic Leander McCormick Observatory on the UVa grounds. McCormick Observatory is open to the public on the first and third Friday night of each month (except holidays). Weather permitting, visitors can view celestial objects through the historic McCormick Refractor and two smaller telescopes. Visitors can also see presentations by the Astronomy Department faculty and exhibits.
McCormick Observatory is also open to educational groups with advanced reservation on the second and fourth Friday of each month. See our Public Night page for information on how to arrange a group visit to McCormick.
Each April and October, a public night is held at the Fan Mountain Observing Station, 13 miles south of Charlottesville. Tickets, which are free, are required for Fan Mountain. Instructions for requesting (up to six) tickets can be found on our Public Night page. About 4000 visitors attend the McCormick and Fan Mountain Observatories public night program each year.
The Astronomy Department also offers daytime tours and programs for educational groups that cannot arrange a nighttime visit. Please call (434) 924-7494 for more information.
Friends of McCormick Observatory Program
A non-profit membership organization to promote and support the education and public outreach activities of the Department of Astronomy. Members are eligible for a number of benefits.
Heidi Winter Endowment Fund for Education and Public Outreach Programs of the McCormick Observatory
The income earned by this endowment will provide a permanent source of support for the exceptional educational programs of the McCormick Observatory, will enable the Observatory to expand its educational and outreach programs, and will ensure that the Observatory remains a resource for students and the public for years to come. This fund was created through the efforts of the friends and colleagues of Heidi Winter at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Astronomy. To make a gift, please visit this link.
Adult Enrichment Classes
The Astronomy Department offers an introductory astronomy class for members of the Charlottesville community who are interested in learning about astronomy but do not need formal credit. The class is offered on Tuesday evenings at McCormick Observatory. Registration is through the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Enrollment is limited to 35 people, and the class fills quickly. Weather permitting, participants in the class will use the historic 26-inch McCormick Refractor in addition to lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on activities.
Teacher Professional Development
The Astronomy Department offers a two-week summer program for Virginia teachers in grades 4-9. The program, Space Science for Teachers, is funded by the federal Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program through the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. During the workshop, teachers will learn basic astronomy using hands-on, inquiry based instruction. Teachers earn a stipend for their participation and are given over $400 worth of equipment for use in their classrooms. Housing is provided. Weather permitting, the teachers use small telescopes at night to explore the sky.
With nearly 1400 students enrolling each year, the Astronomy Department’s introductory astronomy ASTR 1210/1220/1230 sequence is the most popular science sequence at the University of Virginia. See our Course Offerings page for a list of our current classes.
Public Outreach Personnel
Faculty coordinators for Education and Public Outreach Programs:
- Edward M. Murphy, Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy
- Ricky Patterson, Senior Scientist, Department of Astronomy
Many of the Astronomy Graduate Students are involved in the Education and Public Outreach Programs.