Friday, October 30, 2009

Visit from Manhattan School for Children

Last night we had a group of 250 children and their parents from the Manhattan School for Children visit the observatory. After distributing some NASA swag to all of the children in the audience, we got started. We had a thirty-minute talk about what makes asteroids, comets and meteors different from one another, and how you can identify them in the sky. After some great questions from some of the elementary-school students in the audience, we showed a video of a NASA shuttle launch from last year along with footage of the crew aboard the shuttle while it was in orbit.

The second hour was meant to give the children views of the first-quarter Moon, Jupiter, and Albireo through our telescopes. Unfortunately, the weather was uncooperative, and clouds covered most of the sky. We made the best of the situation with demonstrations of how reflecting telescopes work and views of nearby buildings through our telescopes on the roof and in front of the observatory. At the very end, the Moon peeked through some clouds to give a few remaining attendees views of its craters and mountains.

Thank you to Shakira Castronovo from MSC for helping to organize this event. I invite all the attendees to come to one of our public nights when hopefully the weather will be more cooperative!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sidewalk Astronomy in Harlem

On Monday night, Jeff and I brought a small telescope from the Columbia astronomy department to the corner of Powell Boulevard & 125th Street. After setting up the 'scope next to the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., we invited everyone walking by to stop and have a look at the first-quarter Moon and Jupiter. It was the third time this year that Columbia astronomers have coordinated "sidewalk astronomy" for our neighboring community. As before, none of the hundred or so people who stopped to take in the view regretted the interruption. Our next sidewalk astronomy attempt will be November 23-24.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Black Holes

Yesterday Gabe Perez-Giz, one of the senior PhD students in the department who does research on black hole dynamics, taught us all a little bit about black holes and common misconceptions in his talk entitled: "Black Holes for Dummies." He covered Newtonian gravity and general relativity, what black holes are and what black holes are not, and finally talked about what might go on inside the event horizon of a black hole.

Needless to say, despite its title the talk was at a little bit of a higher level than many of our lecturess, but I think people generally got something out of it judging by the number of interesting and insightful questions the audience members asked. After the lecture, we gave tours of the telescopes, had a 40-minute-long question & answer session with the graduate students, and then Cameron Hummels gave a short slideshow on the topic of "Comets, Asteroids and Meteorites." In addition, we gave away a Galileoscope to one lucky audience member, and several items were given out to those audience members who filled out a short survey involving astronomy software for a company called Project Aurora Games. All in all, despite the nasty weather, this was a very successful outreach night.

Thanks to all 150 attendees for braving the rain to come learn about black holes!


Friday, October 16, 2009

From Earth to the Universe

For the last week and a half, Columbia University has been host to the "From Earth to the Universe" (FETTU) astrophotography exhibit. This stunning exhibit consists of 50 spectacular images of planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies and more taken by ground and space-based telescopes over the last few decades. The exhibit is arranged as 25 double-sided, weather-proof, stand-alone panels, each featuring two high-resolution images blown up to a huge, 4-foot-by-3-foot scale. The photographs were placed in the center of campus, in front of Butler Library, where they remained 24 hours a day.

Additionally, volunteers from our Astronomy Department staffed a table next to the exhibit for 10 hours each day the exhibit was up. These volunteers answered questions about the exhibit, astronomy and science in general; they operated a solar telescope to give attendees safe glimpses of the Sun; and they gave out free NASA posters and other astronomy swag.

FETTU is one of the cornerstone projects of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 that brings beautiful multi-wavelength images of the cosmos to a wider audience in non-traditional venues such as public parks and gardens, art museums, shopping malls and metro stations. The exhibit tours all around the United States, but ours was its longest stay in New York City.

Overall, the exhibit was an overwhelming success with an estimated 10,000 attendees, over 3,000 pictures and posters given away, and loads of enthusiasm from everyone who saw the images. Thank you to everyone who was a part of making this one of the most largest astronomy outreach events in the history of New York City.

For images of our event, see our multimedia page. For more information about FETTU, please see their homepage. In case you missed out on all the free posters, check out this site to download a copy of your own.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dark Matter

Last night, Laura Newburgh presented an excellent lecture on the topic of dark matter. She described the scientific evidence indicating it exists, scientists best guesses for what it is, and future projects that we're hoping will provide insight into this peculiar entity.

Unfortunately, the weather was uncooperative, so we were unable to observe the sky; however, there were no shortage of activities. After Laura's talk, Andrew Brown gave an informal talk on the prospects for life in the Universe, Cameron Hummels gave a talk explaining the recent water on the Moon and LCROSS mission, and Jessica Werk discussed how galaxies are constantly merging and interacting all around us in the Universe. In addition, there were tours of the telescopes and the observatory for those people undaunted by the overcast weather.

Thank you to all of the 175 attendees who showed up despite the clouds--we'll see you in a couple of weeks!