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.

October/November Open Houses: Stay tuned to this site for future open houses!

Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years last month. By the beginning of October it moved somewhat further away, but still appears about 80% as large as it did on the night of closest approach. Check below for the currently scheduled public viewing nights.  In addition, views of binary stars, nebulae, and other celestial objects will be had.  Come out and join us.

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.

Note on Times and Weather: In early October it gets dark enough to observe around 8:00 pm. Mars is still giving a good view, so we will be pointing the large telescope there.   On public nights, visitors must sign in at a check-in table set up in the parking lot to look through the large telescope in the dome.  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 Mars and the Moon well through thin clouds, and if it is clear we get good views from the smaller portable scopes as well. If the Moon is out, we will get some wonderful resolution with all the telescopes.  As many of you may know, Mars was closer to Earth this August than it has at any time in the past 60,000 years.  However, as of early October it still appears 80% as large as it did on the night of closest approach.

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.

On public nights the observatory will open at about 8:00 pm and will stay open until at least 11:00 pm (see the schedule for specific times).   If there is still a crowd at closing time, the observer can remain to accomodate people still signed in, but we also need to go home eventually.  If you are not present when your group is called, there is not guarantee you will be able to look through the large telescope.

Houston is plagued by poor weather much of the time.   On the nights of the observatory open houses, check back here between 7 and 8 pm or later to make sure it will not be cancelled due to clouds.  If it is raining, 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.

Reserved Nights (Not Open to Public)

  • Tuesday, Sep 30th, TV Astronomy (Dufour)
  • Thursday, October 2nd 7pm++ (Hartigan).
  • Saturday, October 4th, Jayce Dowell (planetary observing)
  • Mornings Oct 21 and 22 (if clear): Saturn and Jupiter: Astr 202 (Reiff)
  • 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


    Schedules for Previous Months:

    October 2003:

    September 2003:

    August 2003: June 2003: May 2003: April 2003: March 2003: February 2003:

    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