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Steve Kawaler, Physics and Astronomy, (515) 294-9728
Debra Gibson, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- Heaven and nature may sing, but Iowa skies look good, too, especially as depicted in the new "Splendor of the Skies: The 2004 ISU Astronomy Calendar." Published for the third consecutive year by the ISU Physics and Astronomy Department, the calendar showcases the state's spectacular night views with all-new images.

"I think these calendars have become so successful because people haven't realized what a treasure we have in the dark skies above Iowa," said Steve Kawaler, professor of physics and astronomy. "Many places in the state still have very dark skies that are relatively free from 'light pollution.' It comes as a shock to many people that we have these breathtaking scenes overhead and that we can therefore operate a professional observatory so close to campus."

That is the Fick Observatory, located west of Ames near Boone. Many of the calendar's images were photographed at the observatory, with the use of its 24-inch Mather telescope. Joe Eitter, observatory manager, produced the images using a black-and-white CCD (charge-coupled device) camera. For each image, three separate exposures were obtained through filters that approximate the primary colors of red, green and blue. They were then combined to produce the color images.

Other images, such as those produced by assistant professor Guillermo Gonzalez, were taken with a digital camera, Kawaler said, noting Gonzalez's "terrific eye and technique." Other contributors to the calendar were Kawaler and Assistant Professor Charles Kerton, who researched much of the calendar's facts and trivia.

Highlights from this year's calendar include "Thor's Helmet," a Wolfe-Rayet star, which is much larger and produces significantly more energy than the Earth's sun; "Elephant's Trunk," a region of the Milky Way galaxy rich in recently formed stars (within the past 100 million years); a lunar eclipse; and a globular cluster, which contains up to 100,000 stars tightly bound together and includes some of the oldest stars in the universe. And in an astronomy calendar "first," this year's edition also features an insect, though Kawaler wouldn't divulge any further information regarding its whereabouts.

"It's still amazing to me that we can perform top-quality astronomical imaging here in Iowa, creating images that are also just plain pretty," Kawaler said. "People who use this calendar can view the photos as simply beautiful images, they can see them as another great view of our universe, or they can work with them to reveal the technical details of astronomical processes in the same way we astronomers use such images."

The Department of Physics and Astronomy donates a copy of the calendar to each middle school and high school in Iowa. In addition, the calendars are on sale for $10 each at the University Book Store on the ISU campus, via the store's Web site (, or at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines.


NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos from the 2004 "Splendor of the Skies" are available for downloading at

To download: Click thumbnail to download, then right-click mouse and use "save picture as" (PCs) or hold mouse down and use "save as" (Macs) to copy to your computer. Downloaded photos will need to be color corrected and leveled.

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