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Physics and Astronomy Department

Pre-lab #7: The MTSU Uranidrome

The name given to the observatory is crafted from the ancient Greek words for sky (Urani) and dromos (a specially-prepared place) and is the first point of creative thought. The Uranidrome includes twelve columns (like the twelve Olympian gods) carefully arranged for celestial advantage around the periphery of a plaza that boasts a 32-foot (Earth’s surface gravity) diameter image of the Sun, complete with sunspots. Each of the planetary objects featured in the Uranidrome is inscribed to scale, relative to the Sun, on a black granite slab mounted on the column for that object. The granite also contains descriptive features for that object. The historically accepted ideogram for each planetary object is sculpted in inverted bas-relief form on the side of the column facing away from the plaza. No ideogram existed for the new class of solar system objects called trans-Neptunium objects, so one was created for that column.

Colored-coded tiles imbedded in the side of the Jupiter column and on the plaza in front of the column enable a person of any height to find the optimum location to stand and observe Polaris (North Star), a critical point in the sky when learning about the Earth’s motion. The tile color that is at a person’s eye level determines the color of the plaza tile on which that person should stand in order to see Polaris through the center of the circle of the steel sculpture atop the column

The columns to the east and west are aligned with the spring and autumn equinoxes, and columns adjacent to those line up with the solstices. Each column is topped with an iron sculpture, some decorative and some for celestial functionality. The sculpture atop the Jupiter column has a circle set in the center of a set of radial lines with 15° separation. These lines are used to measure the time of passage of a given star between two contiguous radial lines in an experiment to determine the length of the day. In addition, we have included features in the concrete of the plaza that, with the shadow of the gnomon atop the Sun column, serve as a solar clock that is large enough that an entire science class can stand on.

Included in the list of experiments that can be carried out with the Uranidrome facility are:

  • Identify the North Star;
  • Determine the latitude and longitude of Murfreesboro ;
  • Learn basic principles of celestial navigation.
  • Identify the circumpolar constellations;
  • Use these constellations as a way to tell time.
  • Examine sunrise and sunset points to explain the Earth’s tilt and the seasons;
  • Identify the first days of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
  • Examine the moonrise and moonset points to explain lunar phases;
  • Identify the apparent path of the planets through the night sky;
  • Identify where and when to look in the night sky to observe meteor showers;
  • Calculate angular size of the Sun and Moon and relative distances to Sun and Moon;
  • Measure Earth’s rotation rate;
  • Measure Earth’s rate of revolution around the Sun.

Please go to the following website to learn more about the Uranidrome:

Uranidrome Activities

Contact Us

Department of Physics & Astronomy
Wiser-Patten Science Hall, Rm. 220