Saturday, January 23, 2010

Extraterrestrial Life and The 3D Wall

Friday, January 22nd kicked off our spring public lecture series and stargazing nights. First we had an excellent lecture by Neil Zimmerman entitled The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the 21st Century. Neil talked about the Drake Equation, the SETI program, and the various ways astronomers search for intelligence in space using radio scans, laser scans, and more. He then discussed upcoming SETI projects involving the Allen Telescope Array and the Square Kilometer Array.

Since the weather was clear, we were able to observe on the roof after the lecture. Targets included Mars, the first-quarter Moon, the Pleaides, and the Orion Nebula. In addition, there were slideshows held on how stars work and the diversity of galaxies in the Universe.

We had a new treat for visitors last night: 3D visualizations of galaxies, the Orion Nebula and a fly-over Mars using our state-of-the-art 3D wall. Visitors were lent 3D glasses for a fully immersive astronomy experience. We intend to hold this fairly frequently during our star-gazing sessions.

Thanks to all the 140 attendees and 10 volunteers who showed up!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Moon Highlights

On Thursday January 21st, we hosted Columbia University's Treasury Department for an hour and a half of discussion and observations. First we taught the 12 or so attendees about the recent discovery of water on the moon. We detailed the nature of these discoveries and the implications they have for future space exploration and extraterrestrial life. Then we went up to the roof to take advantage of the cloud-free night. The Orion Nebula, the Pleaides and the first-quarter Moon were all visible.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Telescopes and Children

On Friday, we hosted about 26 first and second graders, plus two fifth graders, from the EP1 public school.  Lia Corrales and Nick Hunt-Walker were the two graduate student volunteers for this group.  The visit lasted from 11 am to about 12:45 pm.

A lot of the session was based on telescopes. The kids were asked to draw a picture or write their name on a piece of paper, which we taped to a wall on the opposite end of the hallway. Then they looked at the pictures through a galileoscope to see how the image was flipped upside-down. We showed them how the lenses flipped the image using an optics bench demonstration. We then gave them a tour of the observatory and explained to them the difference between a refracting (lense) telescope and a reflecting (mirror) telescope. Finally, we gave them a slide show of solar system pictures and answered their questions. The children sang us a song before leaving.

Overall, it went well because the kids were enthusiastic (and adorable). One thing that would have made it better would have been using tripods with the galileoscopes. It was difficult to keep them steady enough for the kids to look through. An adult ended up steadying each using the back of a chair so that kids could look, so it took a long time to get through that portion of the activity.

- Lia -