Classes and labs offer hands-on experiences for students

Spend your summer star gazing and earning class credit hours at UNT. Students enrolled in UNT's astronomy courses study constellations in UNT's Sky Theater Planetarium, view planets through telescopes at the Rafes Urban Astronomy Center observatory, and enjoy more hands-on learning experiences through classes, labs and community programs from UNT Astronomy.

Courses offered

Southern plains bee

Astronomy courses are offered through UNT's Department of Physics, and are geared toward non-science majors as well as science majors. Undergraduate courses include Physics 1052 – The Solar System and Physics 1062 – Stars and the Universe. Both undergraduate courses can be taken to cover the natural sciences requirement of UNT's Core Curriculum. Physics 4650 – Intro to Modern Astrophysics, is offered for physics majors.

Undergraduate courses cover topics including physical properties of the earth, moon and planets; properties of stars and stellar systems; and the origin, evolution and future of the universe.

"For physics enthusiasts, we offer an in-depth look at astronomy through a course called Intro to Modern Astrophysics," says Ohad Shemmer, assistant professor in the Department of Physics whose main research area is black holes. "We also offer excellent research facilities and our students have the opportunity to get involved in state-of-the-art astrophysics research projects."

Intro to Modern Astrophysics for physics majors covers topics including:

  • black holes
  • galaxies
  • the energy source of the sun
  • stellar evolution
  • dark matter and energy
  • the structure and fate of the universe
  • basic concepts and methods in modern astrophysics and cosmology.

UNT's planetarium and observatories


The Sky Theater Planetarium in UNT's Environmental Education, Science and Technology building includes 100 seats, a 40-foot domed theater with an advanced high definition and a full-color projection system that can precisely reproduce the night sky.

"Going to the Sky Theater Planetarium is like going to an IMAX theater," says Ron DiIulio, director of UNT's Astronomy Laboratory Program and Planetarium . "Students can sign up for labs in the planetarium, and it's also open to the public on weekends when we show astronomy films. We're able to virtually take you to so many places in the universe."

The Rafes Urban Astronomy Center and Monroe Robotic Observatory are located off campus, giving students and faculty an opportunity to view objects in the night sky without light pollution affecting visibility.

The Rafes observatory is located just west of Denton near the Denton Municipal Airport, and is the home to four telescope huts with high-tech Celestron C8 telescopes. The Rafes also has two classrooms and two domed buildings housing larger Celestron C14 telescopes with the latest positioning systems. Students attending labs at the Rafes observatory, can even use their smart phones to take photos of what they see through the observatory's telescopes.

The Monroe observatory is located even further away from campus near Gainesville. It is a primary research site for UNT graduate students, and equipment at the observatory can be operated from a control area in the EESAT building on the UNT campus.

Community outreach


Anyone in Denton or surrounding cities who is interested in astronomy can attend stargazing parties at the Rafes observatory. The parties are held on the first Saturday of each month, weather permitting, and cost $5 per person. Children under 4-years-old are free. The parties begin 30 minutes after sundown.

The Sky Theater Planetarium also hosts Saturday events for the public. Each Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. the Sky Theater shows family-friendly astronomy films. Prices range from $3 to $5. Currently showing films and the full film library can be found on the Sky Theater website.

"Our star parties and planetarium shows help make science and astronomy accessible to everyone," DiIulio says.

Learn more about about UNT Astronomy, including course listings and public events.

Read archived feature stories >>