May 01 , 2012

Our Master of Liberal Studies students in Dr. John Freeman’s class, “The Grand Design,” met one evening in April at the Rice Campus Observatory to catch amazing glimpses of Venus, Mars and Saturn, and you can, too!

MLS Students at the Rice Observatory MLS Students at the Rice Observatory

“It was a great night,” said Dr. Freeman, professor emeritus in physics and astronomy and director of Master of Liberal Studies. “The weather was perfect. A blue norther had just blown through. Venus shone like a brilliant little jewel in the western sky and Saturn was visible in the east. Through the 16-inch Rice telescope we could see the phase of Venus: Venus had a dark side and a bright side – like a half-moon. The phases of Venus helped convince Galileo that the Sun was the center of the 'Universe' (solar system). We could also see the rings of Saturn.”

Dr. Freeman’s course tackles the big questions: why are we here – why is anything here; why is there something rather than nothing; where did the Universe, the stars, planets and life itself, including us, come from; is ours the only universe; and finally, are the laws of nature sufficient unto themselves to explain all that we see or is there a case to be made that a Divine creator is/was involved?

The Rice Campus Observatory is an impressive facility located on the roof of the new Brockman Hall for Physics. A student in the class, VM Salley-Howell, said, “It suddenly dawned on me how far telescopes have evolved from their 17th-century beginnings, and I wondered how ancient humans must have contemplated the stars without the wonderful instruments of the 21st-century.”

Are you interested in star-gazing at Rice? The Rice University Campus Observatory offers open houses to the general public.

To learn more about the Master of Liberal Studies degree program, visit Applications for fall 2012 admission are due May 18.

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