"The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons."

– Edwin Hubble

CAA Public Events 2019

Young Observer at C16

A young observer peers through the CAA's vintage Celestron 16 telescope.


The CAA hosts at least 12 Saturday Public Observing events featuring a guest speaker that is followed—weather permitting—by celestial viewings through telescopes at the facility. During viewing hours, society members will be available to answer questions and provide everyone with an opportunity to look through the Society's telescopes and those of our members.

This site will be updated through out the year as we assemble our speakers and events.

 Future Presentations

2023 Presentations     

Friday December 1st 7:30 PM – Virtual Event Only

 Title: ‘Approaching Max’ The first Three Years of Sunspot Cycle 25

Presenter: Scott McIntosh, Deputy Director of NCAR


Bio: Scott McIntosh is the Deputy Director of NCAR. He was the Director of the High-Altitude Observatory from 2014 to 2019. Scott received his First Class Honors Degree in Mathematics and Physics and his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. 

Scott’s research in the field of solar physics has focused on three main areas: the detection and impact of magnetohydrodynamic waves; the detection and understanding of ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet radiation; and understanding the decadal evolution of the solar plasma.

Scott has authored or co-authored over two hundred journal articles since receiving his Ph.D. in 1998 and approaching 10,000 citations – his ‘h-index’ is 47. Those articles include over fifty as first author with eleven in high-profile journals.


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 Past Presentations

January 14th 7:30 PM - Virtual Event Only

 Title: Winter Stars and a Deeper Exploration of the H-R Diagram

Presenter: Brent Studer, Kirkwood Community College

As Professor Spangler explained at last month’s public event, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (commonly called the H-R diagram) was developed a little over 100 years ago and is a way of plotting stars on a graph according to their inherent brightness and temperature. The diagram is one of astronomy’s most important tools and has been studied by generations of astronomy students. The winter sky features a number of stars that are excellent examples to help us explore different aspects of the H-R diagram and tonight we’ll learn how to find those stars and how their properties are depicted on the diagram. We’ll also see how the diagram can be used to piece together the evolutionary cycles of stars, the ages of star clusters and their distances from Earth, and even the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Don’t worry if you did not attend December’s presentation, it is not required for tonight’s discussion. Any necessary details about the main sequence will be included tonight.

February 11th 7:30 PM - Virtual Event Only


 Title: ACEAP 2022: My Amazing and Unexpected Journey to Visit the Research Telescopes in Chile

Presenter: Mr. David Falkner


Dave was one of 10 people selected nationally to participate in ACEAP (Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program). His talk is about his 11-day experience in December visiting and staying at three major US-owned observatories in Chile: Cerro Pachón (home of the Gemini South telescope), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope. While at these facilities, Dave and the other ACEAP Ambassadors received extensive training about the instruments, the science, data products, and communicating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. The program also introduced the ambassadors to the people and culture of Chile.  Dave is excited to talk about this amazing experience.

Dave Falkner Bio

Dave Falkner has been a life-long lover of astronomy. After retiring from the US Navy, he settled in Minnesota and became a member of the Minnesota Astronomical Society, where he is currently a Board member. In 2011 Dave traveled to Tucson, AZ to view the Transit of Venus at the Mount Lemmon Observatory and visited Kitt Peak National Observatory. In 2017 he traveled to Casper, WY to view the total eclipse of the Sun. He was chairman of the 2018 Astronomical League National Convention. Along with his extensive outreach activities Dave has taught beginning Astronomy classes at a local community college and has published three books; two editions of “Mythology of the Night Sky” and a third book “The Stories of Astronomers and Their Stars.” He is a NASA Solar System Ambassador and an ACEAP Ambassador.

March 11th 7:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: Venus: the Earth's Twin (?)

Presenter: Professor Steven Spangler - Professor Emeritus - University of Iowa

There are eight major planets that orbit the Sun, but none of them are very similar to the Earth.  In many ways, Venus is the closest match.  Its orbit is closest to the Earth, and it is nearly the same as regards size and mass.  It also possesses a thick atmosphere.  However, at this point the similarities end.  The temperature on the surface of Venus is 860 Fahrenheit, a temperature that is too hot for robot spacecraft, let along life.  I will describe the overall characteristics of Venus as well as the probable reasons why it is so different.  I will also talk about recent, intriguing suggestions that Venus might have been much more similar to the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago.  We should learn much more after the arrival of three new spacecraft missions planned for the next decade.  Finally, if the skies are clear, we will have the chance to see Venus in the evening sky before the talk. 

April 8th 8:00 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

Title: The Great American Eclipses of 2023 and 2024

Presenter: Brent Studer, Kirkwood Community College

Exactly one year from tonight’s presentation, on April 8, 2024, North America will experience one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events: a total solar eclipse. On October 14 of this year the United States and a small portion of Mexico and the Caribbean will experience an annular eclipse of the Sun. Tonight we will learn about eclipses—how they occur, are related to each other, and how to enjoy these extraordinary spectacles.

 April 22nd 6:00 PM – Sundog Saturday - This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

(Zoom prsentation will start at 8:00PM)

 Title: Comets – Vagabonds of the Solar System

Presenter: Mr. Mark Brown - NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador

Comets are exotic icy travelers from the far reaches of our Solar System. NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, Mark Brown, will discuss what comets are made of and why they behave the way they do. Come and see the makings of a comet brought to life in this presentation. This is an exciting and engaging program where participants can see, touch, and hold a “living” model of a homemade comet nucleus. 

Mark Brown is a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador volunteer who actively conducts educational outreach across eastern and northern Iowa. He holds a bachelor's degree in geology from Wright State University and a master's degree in astronomy from Swinburne University of Technology. He is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer who enjoys imaging the night sky through his telescopes and cameras and is passionate about conducting educational public outreach, bringing astronomy concepts to the human level of understanding. For Mark, the darkness and beauty of the night sky bring light to his day. 

May 13th 8:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: Extragalactic Astronomy: From the Great Debate to JWST

Presenter: Kevin Hall, Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Iowa

“A common phrase you may hear is "Space is really big".  If you go back in time roughly 100 years, some believed that the Milky Way Galaxy we live in was the total extent of the Universe. As with many human achievements, our technology improved allowing us to expand our view of the Universe. This revealed that our previous definition of "big" was not quite big enough. In this talk, we will walk through both the history of Extragalactic Astronomy and how we can use advanced telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope to study the structure and evolution of the Universe.”

June 10th 8:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: Open Questions in High-Energy Astrophysics

Presenter: Matthew Millard, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Research Scholar, University of Iowa

Abstract:  X-ray and gamma-ray radiation comprise the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum and serve as powerful probes of extremely energetic astrophysical objects and events.  The detection of astrophysical X-rays and gamma rays using advanced telescopes has significantly improved our understanding of high-energy astrophysical phenomena. However, many prominent questions in high-energy astrophysics remain unanswered, including those regarding the origin of very energetic cosmic rays, the progenitors of Type Ia supernovae, the growth of supermassive black holes in the early Universe, the explanation for dark matter, and many more. In this talk, I will introduce the current generation X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes that are used to investigate these unsettled topics. I will then give some general background knowledge of these astrophysical enigmas, the mystery surrounding them, some best explanations, and the potential of future observations to help resolve them.

Matthew's research involves studying the 3D structure of the hot, X-ray emitting ejecta in supernova remnants (SNRs) using high-resolution transmission grating spectroscopy from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.  Matthew also analyzes the far-infrared ejecta and dust emission from SNRs using data from the Infrared Space Observatory and the Herschel Space Observatory.  Matthew has recently begun studying SNRs at gamma-ray wavelengths using data from the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) to investigate their production of very high-energy cosmic rays.

July 8th 8:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: Recent Discoveries from Radio Telescopes: Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and the Center of our Galaxy

Presenter:  Professor Cornelia Lang

Associate Dean and Professor of Astronomy, University of Iowa

In this talk, I will review some of the most exciting recent results made by radio telescopes around the world, both large radio interferometers and single dish telescopes. I will review the observations that confirm a new type of low-frequency gravitational wave signal that was recently covered in the popular press. I will also describe observations that have, for the first time, revealed the shadow of the supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxy M87 and the Milky Way. Finally, I will show images of the filamentary and magnetized interstellar medium in our own Galactic center.  For each of these discoveries, I will provide the astrophysical context of these observations and I will also conclude with updates on plans for future radio telescopes from around the world.


July 22nd 3-6 PM – Solar Saturday - This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

Program Title: Cycle 25 Ahead of the Curve

Presented by: Carl Bracken CAA volunteer and active member since 1995.

Observatory opens to the public at 3pm

Presentation time 3:30 – 4:30

Snacks and refreshments provided by Cedar Amateur Astronomers

Synopsis:  Cycles of solar activity have been observed and documented for over 400 years. The record shows a clear pattern of activity from the depths of solar minimum with very few observable features to the peak of solar maximum with many large dynamic features rotating across the solar disk. When this pattern is mapped out with the number of sunspots counted in the vertical axis and time in years is mapped out across the horizontal axis a curve is described. The curve or cycle duration is on average around 11 years start to finish.  In 2019 a NASA / NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sponsored a panel of experts across a wide range is scientific disciplines with the purpose to leverage the latest research in solar physics to develop a forecast for solar cycle 25. Key questions under consideration, how strong will the new cycle be, and when will it hit solar maximum? The official report from the panel forecast a solar maximum in July of 2025 (+/- 8 months) with the average intensity like cycle 24.

As of early 2023 cycle 25 appears to be ahead of the forecast curve in intensity, and timing. In this presentation we will look at some of the latest high-resolution data from a range of terrestrial and orbital platforms keeping close watch on our star.


August 12th 8:00 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: Juno’s Extended Exploration of the Jovian System

Presenter: William Kurth Ph.D. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Iowa

Juno successfully completed its primary mission at Jupiter in July 2021. The Juno science team made a case to NASA to continue the mission through September 2025 given that the spacecraft and its science instruments were in very good health.  The nature of the Juno orbit results in crossing Jupiter’s equatorial plane at successively smaller radial distances with each orbit, allowing the extended mission trajectory to include close flybys of Ganymede, Europa, and Io, thereby expanding the focus of the mission from Jupiter’s interior, composition, origin, and its polar magnetosphere, to also include new observations of the Galilean satellites.  This talk will discuss some of the discoveries of Juno’s prime mission, its observations at Ganymede and Europa, and plans for the remainder of the mission including Io flybys. Some of the results from the University of Iowa radio and plasma wave instrument will be highlighted.

September 9th 7:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: The Giant Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way

Presenter: Emeritus Professor Steve Spangler, University of Iowa

When we look at the night sky, it is clear that we live in some huge system of stars. This is particularly striking in early September, when the summer Milky Way is so prominent. Over the past century, astronomers have learned the shape of this system of stars, and how big it is. It is a huge, pancake-shaped system of stars and other types of matter. What is at the center of this disk of stars? This has been convincingly answered in just the last decade or so. At the center of the Milky Way, there is a huge black hole with as much matter as 4 million suns. In this talk, I will describe how we put together our picture of the Milky Way, and how we proved the existence of this black hole. If it is clear, we will be able to go outside afterwards and see the direction to the Galactic Center.



October 7th 7:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

 Title: To Touch the Sun

Presenter:  Jasper S. Halekas, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa

Description: I will give an overview of the historic Parker Solar Probe mission and describe a few recent scientific highlights. Parker Solar Probe has now traveled far closer to the Sun than any human-made object, 20 times closer to the Sun than the Earth, and 6 times closer than Mercury. This orbit allows us to measure the early acceleration and evolution of the solar wind, a stream of hot plasma that flows outward from the Sun at speeds of a million miles an hour. It also allows us to see the birthplace of space weather events that eventually impact the rest of the solar system, including our home planet. 



October 14th - Annular Eclipse Celebration. Free Solar Eclipse glasses! - This event will be in person only

10:30 am - 1:30 pm


Nasa's Live feed 






Global Event: Annular Solar Eclipse
Local Type: Partial Solar Eclipse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Begins: Sat, Oct 14, 2023 at 10:30 am
Maximum: Sat, Oct 14, 2023 at 11:52 am 0.601 Magnitude
Ends: Sat, Oct 14, 2023 at 1:18 pm
Duration: 2 hours, 48 minutes



October 21st 7:30 PM – International Observe the Moon Night - This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

Title: The Moon: Queen of the Night and Key to the Solar System

Presenter: Professor Steven Spangler - Professor Emeritus - University of Iowa

 The Moon is the second most obvious astronomical object in the sky.  It changes its position in the sky and its appearance from night to night.  Ancient and prehistoric cultures carefully noted the motion of the Moon, and most cultures adopted a calendar primarily based on the Moon rather than the Sun.  Since the development of modern science in the last few centuries, we have understood the orbit of the Moon, its effects on the Earth, and the fascinating geography of its surface.  Since the early days of the space program in the 1960s, geologists have become active in the study of the Moon, and contributed new insights.  In particular, the Moon provides some of our best information for deducing the earliest history of the solar system.  Today, the Moon is both a fascinating astronomical object to see in a small telescope, and an important source of our knowledge of the origin and evolution of our solar system.  




November 4th 7:30 PM – This event will be held in person as well as on Zoom

Title: The Golden Age of Medieval Astronomy

Presenter: Mr. Ahmed Reda, Minnesota Astronomical Society

"Have you ever wondered why most of the visible star names are Arabic ones? How Arabic astronomical concepts like the Azimuth or the Astrolabe came to be key ones in medieval astronomy? While most people are familiar with the Ancient Greek or Renaissance astronomy, most people don’t recognize the vast contributions of the Islamic civilization to astronomy for a millennia. This presentation will touch on some of the aspects of medieval Islamic astronomy, how it preserved the ancient knowledge, and leading a golden age of astronomy." Ahmed is very active in the MAS. Aside from serving on the current Board, he is in charge of booking guest speakers for the MAS monthly meetings, and also frequently helps out at the Eagle Lake Observatory.




Public observing events are held in the Eastern Iowa Observatory and Learning Center at the Palisades-Dows Observatory and Preserve through a generous agreement with the Linn County Conservation Department. For directions, please visit our Map to Pal-Dows page or download a pdf version (276 kB.)

The Cedar Amateur Astronomers, Inc. is a participating member of Night Sky Network.