Get out there and stargaze with local events and groups

Here are nine opportunities to connect in person with like-minded star fanatics in the Madison area.
people gathered with telescopes at Moon Over Monona Terrace
Courtesy of Monona Terrace
Moon Over Monona Terrace

Here are nine opportunities to connect in person with like-minded star fanatics in the Madison area.

1 / Public Observing at Washburn
Get the chance to peer through the telescope at Washburn Observatory the first and third Wednesdays of every month, weather permitting. University astronomy students plan to host the open house-style sessions starting again in the next few months. Find more information at go.wisc.edu/washobs.

2 / Moon Over Monona Terrace
If you attend only one stargazing event this year, we recommend Moon Over Monona Terrace, during which more than a dozen telescopes are set up on the Monona Terrace for a free public event overlooking Lake Monona. After missing a year due to COVID-19, this collaboration between the Madison Astronomical Society, Monona Terrace and UW Space Place is set for Oct. 15 this year if the weather cooperates.

3 / Madison Astronomical Society Meetings
Attend talks, hear from speakers and socialize with other MAS members the second Friday of every month at the society’s regular meetings at UW Space Place. In-person meetings should resume soon, but organizer John Rummel says the organization is going to find a way to continue offering a virtual option, too.

4 / Universe in the Park
This statewide outreach program funded by Jere and Anne Fluno takes participants into state parks for astronomy talks and astronomical observations. The UW–Madison Astronomy Department-led program has its next event planned for Sept. 3 at Willow River State Park in Hudson.

people gathered in Washburn

Public Observing at Washburn (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW–Madison)

5 / Sip & Stargaze
A date hasn’t been announced yet for a 2021 installment, but for the past several years, the UW–Madison Astronomy department has set up telescopes on Parthenon Gyros’ rooftop garden for a free stargazing event as part of the Wisconsin Science Festival.

6 / UW Space Place Guest Lectures
This series resumes Sept. 14 after being shut down since March 2020. Astronomer Dean Regas of the historic Cincinnati Observatory will present a talk that will give you a “tour of the universe.” The guest lectures take place every second Tuesday of each month.

7 / Science Saturdays
Kay Kriewald hosts family-friendly Science Saturday workshops at 10 a.m. at the UW Space Place every week during the school year, starting regularly on Sept. 11.

8 / Wisconsin Science Festival
Astronomy-related events haven’t been announced yet at this weeklong annual event, but keep an eye out for chances to learn about the planets and stars from Oct. 21-24. Head to wisconsinsciencefest.org to check out a list of events once they’re posted.

9 / Window to the Universe
Join the Northern Cross Science Foundation on Sept. 11 and Oct. 9 in the Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest to peer through a telescope while educators point out objects. Visit
dnr.wisconsin.gov/events/45721 for more information.

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A stargazing outing doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are four basic tips.

  1. Check the moon’s phase.
    Add the moon phase calendar to your Google calendar to know how much moonlight you’ll have on the night you plan to go out.
  2. Watch for star parties.
    These stargazing gatherings range from large, organized events to spur-of-the-moment outings when skies are clear. Madison Astronomical Society and UW Space Place host several star parties throughout the year.
  3. You might need a permit.
    If you’re staying late at a state or county park, look into the hours before you go. Dane County Parks are open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., but you can purchase a permit if you want to stargaze after hours.
  4. Don’t look at your phone.
    Your pupils constrict to white light. Red light is best to allow your eyes to adapt to the darkness. iPhones have a color filter setting you can activate while out in the field.

Read more about Madison stargazing here.

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