Ask Adler FAQ
A PORTABLE PLANETARIUM?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a portable planetarium and sadly, we don’t know of any that might be available to borrow or rent.
While we may not have a portable planetarium, our people are quite mobile and are out in the community all the time. Please check back here soon for a link to information about our available outreach opportunities.
BUYING A STAR?
Did you know that names for bright stars have come to us through history from many different cultures and can have various names in different cultures? Dim stars are often named for the sky survey that gathered information about that star, so the same star can have dozens of names although there is no playing favorites as no single name is ever preferred over any other name.
While naming a star might make the perfect gift, the Adler doesn’t endorse or recommend any company that claims to “name” stars. To be honest, if you purchase the right to “name” a star, the company through which you name it is really the only organization that will keep records of your name, so “your” star may also have several different names via several different companies. That said, definitely enjoy having “your” star or naming a star after a loved one, but please know that scientists and backyard observers will not use nor know your star name.
Unfortunately, we’re not able to show you the star for a number of reasons. These stars are usually visible only through a large telescope under a dark sky, and even then, they are quite dim. Sadly, light pollution in Chicago makes viewing these dim stars impossible, even with the big telescope in the Adler’s Doane Observatory.
Even if we were able to show you the right area of sky, there is a really good chance that many other stars at about the same brightness (or dimness, actually) will be in the same view in the telescope, making identification of a specific star extremely difficult, and maybe even impossible. An even bigger bummer? “Your” star may be too far south and not visible from here.
WHAT WAS THAT?
The American Meteor Society would love to hear about your sighting. Go to their Fireballs page for more information. You can also report your fireball on their Report a Fireball page. While you’re there, you can see if other people have reported the same fireball! Be sure to check back in a few days, too—more reports may have come in!
More than likely, it was a Chinese lantern. Seriously. We tend to get a few more reports of them when the weather is warm, but we have either seen them in person near the Adler or have heard reports of them at all times of year. Usually, there are several of them launched in sequence, appearing as a string of orange-red lights in the sky moving together in a line. Depending on the wind speed, they may move slowly or quickly. Often, they are launched as part of wedding receptions or other celebrations, so we tend to get reports of them more often on Saturday nights.
WHERE CAN I…?
The U.S. Naval Observatory has this information online. For a single day, use this page. For a specific year, use this page. (Note: the times given via the single day page do add in an hour for Daylight Saving Time, where appropriate, but the chart for a specific year does not. Add one hour to the times on the one-year chart for days during Daylight Saving Time.)
Unfortunately, we do not take pictures on every clear night, and are not aware of anyone else who does this on a regular basis. There are many desktop planetarium programs and phone apps that can show you a computer-generated view of what the sky looks like on a given date. Also, the phase of the Moon for a particular date can be calculated using the U.S. Naval Observatory website.
The National Weather Service has historical weather information on its website.
The American Meteor Society has a fantastic meteor shower calendar with great information about when to go out to see them. It’s usually best to look for meteors after midnight, with a few exceptions like the Geminid meteor shower in December with meteors appearing as early as about 10 pm on the peak night. Remember, the more light polluted the sky above you is, the fewer meteors you will see, so get out where it is dark!
It’s always best to go far from city lights to see meteors – the farther, the better. Unfortunately, we don’t have an easy answer for where you should go to see a meteor shower. Most parks close at or near sunset, though you may want to inquire with the authorities of a particular city or state park to see if sticking around to view some meteors might be allowed. Please don’t go onto private land without asking permission of the landowner first. If you are in Chicago or a town near the western shores of Lake Michigan, try to head to the lakefront. The sky out over the lake might be a little darker & this may make it a little easier to see a few meteors, though keep in mind that Chicago Park District parks generally close at 11:00 pm. No matter what, be careful walking and moving around in the dark! Bundle up & bring some hot cocoa and a lawn chair. Good luck!
Just like for meteor showers, we don’t have a good recommendation for a place to go see an aurora. The Spaceweather website has the most up to date information about how active our Sun is, when auroras might happen, and what areas on Earth may be likely to see them. You can even sign up for emailed aurora alerts! It really helps to be under a dark sky to see an aurora, if it is predicted. All our city and suburban lights can drown out a fainter aurora. Aurorae are very hard to predict… sometimes one might not materialize when predicted, or one might suddenly become visible when predictions call for them to appear elsewhere. They could be overhead, or they may just touch the sky toward the northern horizon. We also can’t reliably predict them more than a few hours in advance, up to a day or two, at most. You can see them most often in far northern Canada and Alaska; they happen much less frequently in our area. Some tour companies even offer aurora viewing trips. Road trip, anyone?
The Adler Planetarium’s Doane Observatory is open periodically for observing, both through our smaller solar telescopes and our 20″ reflector telescope. Our most popular evening program is called Doane at Dusk. No tickets or reservations needed. If it’s clear out & the front door is open, come on in! Keep an eye on Adler’s social media accounts (@AdlerPlanet on Twitter and Adler Planetarium on Facebook) for last-minute updates and weather-related schedule changes.
A number of nearby observatories also offer tours.
- The Dearborn Observatory is on the campus of Northwestern University. Look through the historic telescope containing an 18.5″ diameter lens originally made in 1861!
- The Yerkes Observatory is part of the University of Chicago, and it is located in beautiful Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The 40″ refractor telescope is the largest operational refractor in the entire world! Check out the website for information about tours and observing programs.
There are lots of amateur astronomy clubs in the Chicagoland area and beyond. Most have meetings where the public can attend, and many offer sky observing programs, either with smaller telescopes or at dedicated observatories. Join a local club and geek out about astronomy as much as we do!
- Chicago Astronomical Society
- Skokie Valley Astronomers
- Lake County Astronomical Society
- Northwest Suburban Astronomers
- Fox Valley Astronomical Society
- Naperville Astronomical Association
- Calumet Astronomical Society
- Kankakee Area Stargazers
- Astronomy clubs in Wisconsin
- Astronomy clubs in Indiana
- Astronomy clubs in Illinois
- Astronomy clubs in Michigan
Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. is currently the third Sunday in March to the second Sunday in November. Other countries have other time periods for Daylight Saving Time—or they do not utilize DST at all.
Please note that Daylight Saving Time has not always been during this exact time period and the specific date(s) that Daylight Saving Time started in the United States will be different from when Daylight Saving Time started in other countries, so if you are looking for whether a specific date in history incorporated Daylight Saving Time, we suggest starting with this resource from Time and Date.
Visit NASA’s Eclipse website for more information.
WHAT MIGHT THIS BE?
We don’t advise bringing or shipping your specimen to the Adler, and would ask that you not send a picture. It’s truly impossible for anyone—even a professional who studies meteorites—to conclusively identify anything as a meteorite purely by sight or via a picture. We also don’t have the proper equipment or instruments here at the Adler to study specimens and identify them as meteorites.
There are many unusual Earth rocks and man-made materials that are often misinterpreted as meteorites, such as slag from factories, asphalt, and concrete chunks. Web pages at Washington University in St. Louis and The University of New Mexico may help you begin to determine if your rock is a meteorite. We’d advise you to start your search for information on one (or both) of these sites.
Pretty exciting stuff, right?! We’re more than happy to review your picture to see if we can figure out what you saw. We can accept images in the following formats: JPEG or JPG, PNG, TIFF; your image should be 5 MB in size or smaller.
Before you send it to us, though, please check to make sure what you photographed isn’t a lens flare. Here are some examples of what those flares might look like. Lens flares are due to internal reflections of light inside a camera’s optics. Sadly, many of the images we receive are of lens flares. If you’re convinced that your image is not of a lens flare and you would like us to review it, please email it to us at: email@example.com.
CAN I SELL/DONATE/HAVE SOMETHING APPRAISED?
Thank you for thinking of the Adler Planetarium as the future home of your meteorite! While we can’t recommend specific meteorite dealers, and we generally don’t purchase them, if you would like us to consider accepting your meteorite as a donation to the museum, please send a letter with any relevant imagery and certification documentation, along with your contact information, to Curator, Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL, 60605. Our Webster Institute staff will contact you if they feel that the item might be considered for our collection. Please note that requests will only be considered if the meteorite you’re offering has been identified by a laboratory or a professional scientist who specializes in meteorite identification. We also ask that you not send or bring the meteorite to us without prior approval from our curatorial staff; that could get pretty awkward.
You’re too kind! We appreciate that you would consider the Adler as the appropriate place for your historical item. If you would like an item to be considered for donation to the Adler, please send a letter describing the item with any relevant documentation and images, along with your contact information, to Curator, Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL, 60605. Our Webster Institute staff will get in touch with you if they feel that the item might be considered for our collection. Please do not send or bring any items to us without prior approval from our curatorial staff; see above; that could get awkward.
It’s a bummer, but unfortunately, we can’t. Museum staff aren’t ethically permitted to appraise the value of objects related to their collections. The potential for conflict of interest is too great. Think of it this way: A curator might be tempted to appraise an object at a high value, so that its owner could take a large tax deduction for donating the object to the curator’s collection.
To get an appraisal, you need a specialist who knows the field, but who is not at a museum. A good appraiser is usually someone who buys and sells the type of object in question. For example, astrolabes are best appraised by dealers who buy and sell astrolabes. Maps are best appraised by dealers who buy and sell maps. The more specialized the dealer’s knowledge, the more accurate the estimate of the object’s value.
Keep in mind that a dealer has at least as much potential for conflict of interest as a curator, and both parties should be aware of the potential for conflict of interest. If you can’t find a dealer who specializes in your type of object, there are many professional appraisers with wide expertise and experience. Try calling the American Society of Appraisers (1-800-ASA-VALU) or visit http://www.appraisers.org.
Thank you for thinking of us! Can we ask, though, that before you reach out, to please first consider getting in touch with a school in your area that may have an astronomy club or a STEM or STEAM Lab/Club that can put your telescope to use? They may need your telescope much more than we do as we already have an extensive collection of telescopes that we use for educational purposes.
You are welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know the brand, model, and size of your telescope, and we’ll let you know if we can accept it. Note: If we do accept your donation, we aren’t permitted to set a value of the telescope for tax purposes and cannot recommend specific appraisers. You’d have to do that on your own. Please contact your tax professional for examples of appropriate documentation of value.
Head on over to the Adler’s Guide to Viewing the Universe for some suggestions!
CAN WE CHAT?
If you are a member of the media (radio, TV, print, digital), please visit the Adler’s Press Room.
If you are a student requesting an interview, unfortunately, we can’t accommodate interview requests at this time due to the volume of requests we receive. The American Astronomical Society has a webpage and a downloadable PDF with a lot of information for students wishing to learn about astronomy as a career. Additionally, our astronomers here at the Adler have compiled information based on the many, many questions we have received over the years like:
What’s the average salary of an astronomer? The average salary of an astronomer is hard to pin down. Most astronomers are employed by universities or by the government. A few private observatories and planetariums (such as the Adler) also employ astronomers. The salaries that one can expect to make after receiving a PhD vary from roughly $35,000 to over $100,000 per year depending on where one works and the stage of one’s career.
What amount of schooling is needed to be an astronomer? Most careers in astronomy require a PhD in physics, astronomy, or a related field. Earning a PhD typically requires five or more years of graduate work beyond college graduation. Beyond the PhD, most astronomers work at several post-doctoral positions. These are usually two or three year positions at a research institution like a government lab or a university. “Post-docs” are sort of like apprenticeships though they focus more on research and less on formal learning.
Astronomers generally begin to look for permanent positions after their first post-doc although working at two or three post-docs has become fairly standard before one finds a permanent position. Thus, in total, including grade school, high school, college, graduate school, and post-docs, about twenty-five years of training is required to become an astronomer!
What skills are required? Most astronomers find mathematics and computer skills to be essential in their careers. Therefore, it is a good idea to take courses in these fields early (and often). Also of great importance are physics and chemistry. If one wishes to study the planets, then geology is also necessary. In addition to science and math courses, humanities and writing are also quite important. Writing papers, giving lectures, and presenting results are major parts of what astronomers do. If one can’t communicate one’s idea, it doesn’t matter how brilliant he/she is!
What sort of working conditions might an astronomer encounter? Some astronomers work as professors at a university. As such, they typically have teaching responsibilities and may also supervise the research work of undergraduate and graduate students. (This is another reason not to neglect one’s communication skills!) Professors are also expected to conduct original research and write papers on their results in scientific journals. Astronomers spend a majority of their time in an office with a computer workstation. Because much of their work is done independently, they often enjoy quite flexible hours.
Other astronomers have “research only” positions within government agencies or at universities. These astronomers are devoted primarily to conducting research and publishing papers and rarely teach courses. They may also supervise student research, but this is less common.
Whether astronomers have teaching or research positions, they collaborate with other astronomers all over the world and may travel frequently to meetings and conferences. If one enjoys travel, this can be one of the benefits of the job. In addition, if one is an observer, one has the opportunity to go to observatories located in some of the most lovely and unspoiled spots on the globe (observatories are generally located as far from population centers as possible). Planetary geologists often do field work on impact craters, lava fields, and other interesting places in order to understand how these processes may work on other planets.
What do the current and future employment opportunities look like? There are about 6,000 professional astronomers in North America. This is quite a small number in comparison to other science-related fields. Thus, competition is high for the relatively few positions that open up per year. In the last few years, about 150 positions have become available each year nationwide. Not all of these are permanent positions, however. Nevertheless, most astronomers who wish to stay in the field eventually find permanent positions. This is not a certainty, however, and may require some perseverance. Working at post-doctoral positions beyond the usual two or three is not uncommon.
Training as an astronomer is quite valuable in other fields. Recruiters in industry have come to realize that the rigorous training astronomers receive also prepares them for careers that rely on strong problem-solving skills. Astronomers leaving the field typically find well-regarded (and lucrative) positions in industry. Opportunities range from financial consulting to teaching high school, from computer programming to optical engineering. The salaries in industry are typically higher than in academia or government positions.
Some astronomers even serve on national and international committees (at places like NASA or the National Science Foundation) helping to set the science policies and funding priorities for the entire country or even groups of countries!
Why astronomers do what they do? Given the long years of training and high competition for permanent jobs, why should one consider becoming an astronomer? Astronomers, physicists, and other scientists working in fields of basic research almost all share one common characteristic—they love what they do. They try to understand the Universe around us, asking questions such as: What is it? What does it look like? What’s it made out of? How does it work?
Astronomers peer out into the most distant reaches of the Universe and pry apart the tiniest particles that exist. They discover new planets and watch as galaxies collide. They study the formation of structure in the Universe using the world’s most powerful telescopes and use the world’s most powerful computers to test their theories. Astronomy requires a questioning mind, tenacity for in-depth problem solving and data gathering, a love for playing with ideas and concepts, and an unending desire to learn more.