Education and Community Outreach

Students gathered underneath the Hale telescope.
The University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory Education Program is dedicated to fostering life-long learning in astronomy, physics and engineering by providing educational opportunities and resources in a collaborative environment that combines the highest quality teaching and science expertise and is inclusive of all learners. Education is the foundation for success. Yerkes is the best place to experience real science and engineering related to astronomy especially for our younger generations. It is the goal of the staff at the observatory to ensure that these opportunities continue year after year.


Community Programs

  • Star Parties

    Throughout the year Yerkes offers star parties for the general public. Amateur astronomers volunteer their time and bring portable telescopes that are set up on the South Lawn. These events are planned with indoor and outdoor activities suitable for adults and children. Star parties are designed for either clear or cloudy weather and registration is encouraged. Both Star Parties and Family Programs are a collaborative effort with the Williams Bay Recreation Department and are organized by the Stars at Yerkes educators. Star parties can be designed for specific groups or special events. Examples include the "Night Under the Stars" for the Lakeshores Library System and the June 2012 Transit of Venus.  Sign up for our next star party here.


  • Family Nights

    Yerkes Observatory offers a Family Night Program for families with students in grades 3-8. This program takes place in the early evening once a month at Yerkes Observatory to encourage interactive learning, while building basic understanding of science technology and math in the context of astronomy. Programs are designed with hands on activities, internet resources, and often includes a presentation by an astronomer or an engineer. We observe when skies are clear. Schedule and sign up.


  • Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists (YAAYS)

    YAAYS provides 3-8 grade students with opportunities to learn and have fun with science and engineering in summer day camps. In 2013 we plan to offer three camps tentativley scheduled the weeks of June 10, June 17 and July 22. Originally YAAYS received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Award #0639690, to create out-of school time programs for 100 hours per year over a two-year period. As the students who participated have matured to become high school and college age, many have returned to Yerkes to participate in the high school program or become volunteers. Practices and curriculum developed for YAAYS inspire custom field trips, star parties, and family programs. The 2012 YAAYS camp participants on the front stairs of Yerkes.
  • High School Programs

    Yerkes Observatory educators, scientists, and engineers guide monthly activities for area high school students. Our goal is to engage students interested in science, computer programming, imaging, and engineering. Students assume leadership roles and help organize, plan and run the program. Each year ambitious high school students earn semester credit or participate in work experience programs as student interns. For information, interested parents or high school students can contact

  • Skynet Junior Scholars

    Skynet Junior Scholars is a new collaborative funded by NSF between The University of Chicago Award #1223687, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Award #1223235, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Green Bank Award #1223345, and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This project will serve middle school youth and their leaders in 4-H clubs and other informal education venues. The Yerkes 41” reflector is a member of Skynet’s worldwide system of robotic telescopes. Having students observe with telescopes to investigate the Universe with their own images is a high priority for our education projects.


Professional Development

  • Teacher Resources and Workshops

    Teacher leaders who participate in Yerkes professional development initiatives have formed the Stars At Yerkes (S@Y) professional learning community. This community sponsors monthly workshops and star parties, open to any educators, amateur astronomers, or out-of-school youth leaders. Many of these highly dedicated educators participate in advanced astronomy and astrophysics research, outreach, and ambassador programs. Examples include the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP), the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (for SOFIA) program, "Hands-On Universe" (HOU, EU-HOU), Searching for Asteroids IASC and the Pulsar Search Collaboratory. Educators are kept informed of upcoming events through the yoteach listserve.

  • Extended Fieldtrips

    Children participating in a fieldtrip activity Yerkes Observatory offers tours as well as extended field trips to learn about and experience astronomy from basic through in-depth levels. Programs are designed in collaboration with teachers and their schools and vary in curriculum and price. Experiences may include solar observing, bright planet day-time observing, use of SOFIA’s active astronomy kits and an infrared camera for learning about the E-M spectrum and infrared astronomy, remote observing, and other “hands-on” activities, as well as the tours of the observatory, and lectures on its history and architecture. To plan an extended program during the day or for an evening, please contact Vivian Hoette.
Yerkes Project SEE students reaching up and touching the giant telescope.

Multi-Sensory Astronomy

  • Through programs developed with support from Lions Clubs, NASA, and NSF, we work with the Wisconsin School for the Deaf and Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired to incorporate multi-sensory approaches in all of our projects and programs.



Links to previous programs and activities page: Activities Programs