Stargaze at NIU’s Observatory

By Sarah Lalond

Northern Illinois University’s observatory is more than just a highlight on a guided tour, or the cheapest date on campus. It’s a rare opportunity to take an in-depth look at the stars for free.

The observatory is the dome perched on top of Davis Hall, just across the street from the library and the parking garage.

From your vantage point high above most academic buildings, you can look over NIU’s lagoon, or toward the Holmes Student Center. The blue tiled walls curve around the star of the show: the telescope.

Sarah LaLond/Northern Star

A section of the ceiling opens up like a garage door, but instead of revealing the headlights of a car, it displays the light of the night sky. The dome swivels and the floor can be raised for the best viewing angle.

In general, the air quality of DeKalb’s skies permits stargazing, however the bright lighting from the Huskie Stadium can slightly interfere with viewing. For the best look, the interior lights of the observatory are dimmed and replaced with moody red lighting.

Sarah LaLond/Northern Star

Despite the cloudiness, I was still able to see Saturn, a mere 746 million miles away. It’s distinctive rings and yellow coloring stood out from the rest of the night sky.

It’s also possible to view Jupiter and Mars on a clear night. Depending on the time of year, the Orion Nebula and Pisces constellation are also visible.

A new phone mount connects to the telescope’s eyepiece. This allows your phone camera to capture photos of the planets and other phenomena.

It’s amazing to be able to see planets that are millions of miles away. The awe that vastness of space inspires is incredible.

Weather permitting, the observatory is open Friday nights to the public. To ensure the observatory is open or to schedule a group tour on another night of the week, contact the Physics Department phone at (815) 753-1772.