Rice University Campus Observatory


The Rice Campus Observatory is used primarily as a teaching facility for undergraduate education.  Classes which make use of the observatory include Astr 201: Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe and Astr 202: Exploration of the Solar System, both introductory classes for non-science majors; Astr 221: Observing the Night Sky, a new lab class for students in all academic programs; and Astr 230: Astronomy Lab, the primary course for Astronomy majors and others to learn to use a research calibre telescope and equipment including spectrometers and CCD imagers.  Students in Astr 230 also learn advanced image processing techniques such as IRAF which they use on data taken at the campus observatory to do a final research project.

Observatory Location:

The Rice University campus observatory is located on the north side of campus, to the west of the North Parking Lot and on the north side of the intrmural fields.  It is most easily accessible from entrance 13 off of Rice Blvd.  The linked map shows the location on campus marked with a red dot.  Please Note: There is a charge to use the visitor parking at Entrance 13, payable by credit card only. For major events this parking may fill up, but visitors can then use the Stadium parking lot about a half mile away. The Campus shuttle bus services the Stadium lot; ask the driver to direct you to the closest stop to the observatory.   Note, all campus shuttles stop running at 10:40 pm, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.  The above map is taken from the Rice University campus parking map, which is an interactive map you may wish to consult if you are driving to campus.  The only free parking for non-Rice visitors is available on the west side of the football stadium, quite a distance from the the observatory.

Open Houses:  

The next open house will be FRIDAY, March 26TH (7-10PM)

-- View Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, first quarter moon, and deep-sky objects like the Orion Nebula!

General:  Approximately once a month we have public viewing open houses on a weekend night near first quarter moon.  The dates for these are posted at this website approximately two weeks in advance.  During special astronomical events we may also have special public viewing sessions.  The times for open houses depend on local sunset times, but generally start about an hour after sunset and go on for 2-3 hours thereafter.  During summer months, when school is not in session, we might have additional open houses.  During mid-November through mid-February we suspend open houses due to the combination of bad weather and holidays.  Reservations for special nights by groups or for during scheduled open houses are not practical given our limited staff, so viewing through the 16inch telescope is done on a “first-come, first-served” basis (sign-up sheets during high attendance nights).  School groups interested in seeing an astronomical observatory and looking through telescopes should contact the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park (281-242-3055), which is a larger facility dedicated to serving schools in the Houston area, and one which has weekly public viewing on Saturdays.

Fees: Unless specifically noted as Rice only above, the open houses are available to anyone.  Aside from parking described above, there is no fee to attend the observatory open house.

Notes on Telescopes:  The best views of planets, stars clusters and nebulae are with our computerized 16inch telescope in the dome, but we can only accommodate about 60 people an hour looking through it and on busy nights a sign-up system is employed.  However, in addition to this telescope, there will be 2-3 (or more) smaller telescopes set up in the parking lot for viewing.  These smaller telescopes do not require sign in.  Our experience has been that the large telescope is able to see planets and the Moon well through thin clouds, and if it is clear we get good views from the smaller portable scopes as well. When the Moon is out, we will get some wonderful resolution with all the telescopes. 

If you have small children, (i.e., less than about 7 years old, we recommend that they use the telescopes set up in the parking lot. The wait to see through these telescopes is much shorter than for the telescope in the dome, and small children are rarely able to discern any more detail through the large telescope. The Moon is probably the ideal target for children, as it is bright and easy to see.

Weather:  Houston is plagued by poor weather much of the time.   On the nights of the observatory open houses, check back here around sunset or later to make sure it will not be cancelled due to clouds.  If it is raining, or has rained significantly during the afternoon, the observatory will be closed.

For more information about astronomy and space science at Rice please refer to our research pages and our course listings.  Additional space-related events of interest to the public can be found on the Rice Space Institute home page.

Special Reserved Nights

·        January 20-23 (Tu-F; ~8-10PM) – Astronomy 202 class (D. Alexander)

·        February 2-5, 9-12, 16-20 (M-F; dusk…) – Astronomy 230 lab (C. Johns-Krull)

·        February 24-26 (Tu-Th; dusk-midnight) – Astronomy 403 lab (P. Reiff)

·        March 10, 11, 14, and 15 (dusk-midnight) – Astronomy 230 lab (C. Johns-Krull)

·        March 19 (F; ~7-9PM) – P&A Department graduate student recruits (R. Dufour)

·        May 1-2 (dusk+) – SPAC reunion activities

Weather Links:

Five-day Houston Forecast

Visible cloud cover for Texas

IR cloud cover for Texas

60 hour Meteogram

0-7 day Meteogram

8-16 day Meteogram


Open House Schedules in Previous Months:

November 2003:


October 2003:

September 2003:

August 2003:

June 2003:

May 2003:

April 2003:

March 2003:

February 2003:

Sunday, Feb 23rd; 7-10PM - Dufour - Telescope operation for interested undergraduates.


Authorized users can send email to rjd@rice.edu to get put on the observatory schedule.


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               Department of Physics & Astronomy - MS 61, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77005-1892
Office: 713-348-4938   Fax:713-348-4150 physics@rice.edu