A dark sky in central Nebraska and an investment in new professors have led the University of Nebraska-Kearney to offer the state’s only astronomy major.
UNK began offering students a Bachelor of Science in astronomy or a Bachelor of Science in astrophysics this year.
UNK Planetarium Director Lee Powell says an investment in resources and professors will give the school the opportunity to teach and do research.
“We have a new astronomy and astrophysics major that went into the catalog officially this year,” Powell tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KXPN. “We have active research in several different disciplines related to astronomy, so I think we’re in good shape to support the new major.”
Under the new program, students can earn a bachelor of science in astronomy or a bachelor of science in astrophysics. Four new classes will now be offered to students majoring in astronomy – astronomy methods I and II, and astrophysics I and II.
Powell, who also serves as an assistant professor of physics and physical science at the university, says UNK has all of the right ingredients in place to launch what the school hopes will be a very successful astronomy program.
“So, we saw an opportunity with the planetarium that was new here and with some new faculty; as retirements happened, as we would have new folks coming in, an opportunity to set ourselves apart a little bit from some of the other schools.”
UNK has hired two astronomers to bolster its department. Powell studies the structure of the galaxy and stars, associate professor Adam Jensen conducts research on exo planets and associate professor Mariana Lazarova studies other galaxies.
The planetarium on the Kearney campus features a state-of-the-art projector, the Zeiss Skymaster ZKP4. It uses fiber optic technology to project each star on the dome and can create a replica of the night sky, even recreating a sky from the past or projecting one in the future.
The UNK Department of Physics and Physical Science also plans to be active in promoting astronomy. The department hosts school groups for educational shows.
Brent Wiethorn, KXPN, contributed to this report.