Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sidewalk Astronomy in Harlem

Yesterday evening the weather turned in our favor at the 11th hour, giving us a brief window in a week of dreary overcast skies. With a 6" telescope, Jess and I showed people the Moon and Jupiter from our usual corner, the plaza at 125th St & Powell Blvd. The landscape of craters and mountains, so dramatic in the first-quarter moon phase, made a big impression on the 70 or so people who stopped to have a look. Many were excited to hear about Cameron's lecture coming up on Dec 4th about the myth of the 2012 apocalypse, so hopefully we'll see some of those faces again next week.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gravitational Waves & Black Holes

Last night we had a good turnout for Professor Szabolcs Marka's lecture on gravitational waves and black holes entitled: "A Matter of Life and Death: How Black Holes Do It." Szabi gave a good introduction to gravitational waves and some of the expected strong sources of gravitational waves in the Universe. He finished up by talking about the various projects for actually observing gravitational waves and the difficulties in doing so.

Afterwards, we gave away a Galileoscope to a lucky member of the audience, and we provided some cool NASA swag to the attendees. The weather was mostly cooperative, so attendees had the option of going up to the roof to get views of the Pleaides and Jupiter, or sticking around in the lecture hall to hear a couple of mini-lectures and slideshows. Cameron Hummels explained the science behind the discovery of water on the Moon along with the most recent results from LCROSS that came out last week. Josh Schroeder discussed the basics of spiral galaxies and fielded questions on all kinds of astrophysical topics.

Thank you to all 8 volunteers and the 130 audience members who showed up for this event!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Fourth-graders experience Meteors

Yesterday, we were visited by a fourth-grade class from the Children's School of Brooklyn (P.S. 372). Together we went through several educational activities on the theme of "Comets, Asteroids and Meteors" to commemorate the Leonid Meteor Shower this week. We produced a small slideshow and discussed the differences between comets, asteroids and meteors. The students then created sandbox craters to discover the relationship between impactor size, speed and consequent crater size. We made a dry-ice comet out of household materials and demonstrated why it gets a tail as it falls into the inner solar system.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't clear so we couldn't do any solar observations, but the students did get to see the telescopes, observe nearby Riverside Church, and see how different telescopes work. Lastly, we discussed how we, the graduate students got our start in astronomy and science, and what the children could do at this young age to pursue science and mathematics. All in all, it was very successful, and I thank the class and teachers for their visit!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall Family Astro with Comets and Meteors

This semester's Family Astro on Saturday, November 14th was the messiest yet.  We started off by telling families about the Leonids meteor shower, which has been taking place over the last few days.  We showed kids how comets can leave behind trails of debris, which hit the earth.  Jana Grcevich made a model comet out of dry ice and showed how it can crack and emit gas when it warms up.  Lia Corrales then talked about different types of meteorites and guided the kids in making a model meteorite out of cookie dough.  Yuan Li and Jennifer Weston had kids throw objects into powder to simulate the formation of craters.  Unfortunately, the weather was too wet to make any telescope observations.  Andrew Brown wrapped up by giving families a tour of the observatory, followed by a slide show about light and telescopes.  Families who felt inclined stayed for the last 20 minutes to watch Cosmic Collisions.  Approximately 17 children and their families were present at the event.

- Lia -

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Micrometeorites and Clear Weather

Last night we had some beautiful weather for stargazing to accompany Lia Corrales' lecture entitled: "Meteorites: The Extraterrestrials in your Backyard." Lia talked about micrometeorites, very small particles originating in outer space which rain onto the surface of the Earth every day in significant amounts (estimated at 20,000 tons / year). She discussed ways where these come from, why they're important, and how you can find them in your own backyard. We followed her talk with a Galileoscope giveaway and lots of free NASA CDs for attendees.

We then opened up the telescopes for the attendees, both on the Roof and in front of Pupin. We observed Jupiter, the Owl Cluster (aka the ET Cluster), and the Andromeda Galaxy. Attendees also had the option of sticking around the lecture hall to see one of our various slideshows, watch Cosmic Collisions, or ask astronomers their burning questions at our Q&A. Overall it was one of our most successful nights of the year with over 200 people showing up to take advantage of this beautiful observing conditions.