SCI's season of space exploration

Learn more about upcoming astronomy events at!

Learn more about upcoming astronomy events at!

By: Richard Miles, SCI Programs Coordinator

My name is Richard, and I am one of the Programs Coordinators here at the Science Center of Iowa. This summer, there will be many breathtaking celestial events that Central Iowans will be able to see with the help of SCI, and yet, this is just a small part of the fantastic space-themed programming that awaits you with the opening of Facing Mars on June 2.

Let me tell you a little more about these astronomical events...

SOLAR ECLIPSE: May 20, 2012

The first event has already occurred, but provides a taste of things to come. On Saturday, May 20, we had the good fortune to see a partial solar eclipse. It was the first eclipse visible from Iowa since 1994.

An eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the sun in such a way that it casts its shadow over part of the Earth. From Des Moines, we viewed about two thirds of the Sun obscured by the Moon.

SCI and the Des Moines Astronomical Society (DMAS) teamed up to provide over 300 people the opportunity to safely witness this spectacular show through telescopes with solar filters and solar projection devices. The eclipse could have easily gone unnoticed to someone without knowledge of the occasion, yet spectators at our event were treated to an hour-long show as the Moon gradually cast more and more of its shadow upon us. It all ended too soon as the crescent sun disappeared below the horizon.

TRANSIT OF VENUS: June 5, 2012

We will relive some of the excitement generated during the eclipse event on Tuesday, June 5. SCI is once again partnering with DMAS to put on an event that will allow people to view a far rarer astronomical occurrence. This time we will see the planet Venus transit the Sun. This is something that will not occur again for 105 years!

A planetary transit occurs when a planet passes between the Earth and the Sun in such a way as to appear to be moving across the face of the Sun. (This is similar to an eclipse, except the planet is much farther away and as a result appears much smaller.)

Expect to see a small black dot (the planet Venus) moving across the face of the Sun. But just like the eclipse, do not attempt to view this directly without the proper eye protection. To safely view the Transit of Venus, join us at the State Capitol Complex near the Shattering Silence sculpture, where will have the same safe viewing equipment as we had for the solar eclipse event set-up. And just like the solar eclipse event, this will be free to the public. This once in a lifetime spectacle begins at 5:02 pm and will last until sunset.


These events are just the beginning of what is shaping up to be a summer of space here at SCI. Right now, the Sun is in a period of its 11 year solar cycle that is referred to as solar maximum. During solar maximum, the Sun’s magnetic field becomes twisted, producing magnetic storms that bring about massive sunspots and solar prominences. At SCI, we’re taking advantage of this by providing times every week when visitors can safely view these incredible solar phenomena through special solar telescopes.

SCI and DMAS also will be hosting freeStar Parties on select Saturday nights every month through the end of the year. During a Star Party, you will be able to see everything from the Moon and planets to star clusters and galaxies through powerful telescopes. Educators and experienced local astronomers will be your guide as you gaze at these cosmic wonders. The August 11 event will coincide with the Perseid meteor shower. SCI will partner with Des Moines Parks and Recreation and other local organizations to help host what will be the largest star party of the year in Des Moines. It will be held at Ewing Park in southeast Des Moines and will include space-themed crafts and activities, an outdoor movie, presentations by local astronomers, telescope viewing, food and drink and of course, the always-brilliant Perseid meteor shower. Bring a blanket and enjoy the spectacular free show!

So what will a typical day at the Science Center of Iowa this summer be like? It might start with a look at a working replica of a Mars rover, followed by a ride on a hovercraft, a simulated walk on Mars, a taste of astronaut training in the spinning chair, a close look at a real Martian meteorite and the IMAX film Roving Mars. Then after a bite to eat downtown, you can come back for a free look at Mars and other planets through a powerful telescope at an SCI Star Party. You could literally spend an entire day experiencing the wonders of space and space travel this summer at the Science Center of Iowa.  Hope to see you soon!

Richard Miles is a Programs Coordinator at SCI and our resident astronomy expert. As part of his job, Richard presents live science programs to SCI participants and helps develop new programming. He studied physics and astronomy at Drake University and Iowa State University. Richard worked at SCI from 1992-2002 and returned to SCI in September of 2011. 

Category: NASA