Saturday, December 24, 2011

December 16: How I Discovered A Supernova

We had a wonderful turnout for Caroline Moore's talk "How I Discovered a Supernova." Caroline gave an enthusiastic and informative talk that covered all aspects of her amazing discovery of SN2008ha. Caroline primed her audience with the background on stellar evolution needed to understand why supernova form and emphasized what types of stars ultimately end as supernova (not all do!). She mentioned some debate that has surrounded the classification of the SN2008ha -- indeed, SN2008ha has a very low luminosity and determining its class has required followup work using a wide range of telescopes to understand its nature. Caroline described the process of "blinking" frames that she used to find SN2008ha. There were many children present in the audience, and in the end she let them try to find SN2008ha by blinking the frames and letting them find the supernova. Indeed, this proved more difficult than expected but also got the point across that this kind of work requires extreme meticulousness. After the talk, Caroline answered a range of questions and this is when we learned that she also discovered another supernova recently: SN2009he!

Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy but around 40 people still went up to the rooftop observatory for a tour, led by grad student Josh Schroeder and assisted by Jeff Andrews, Curtis Cooper, Ian Allen, and Miao Li. Grad student Jana Grcevich led 3D visual simulations up on the 13th floor of Pupin Hall. In the lecture hall after the talk, undergrad Emir Karamehmetoglu and I showed the video "Cosmic Collisions" and this led to an open discussion on a variety of astronomy topics. Thanks to all the volunteers and the 170 people who came out for the night!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 2: Are there other Universes?

Last night we had a fantastic lecture given by postdoctoral researcher David Kagan entitled: "Is Our Universe Alone in the Multiverse?" David covered a full introduction to assure everyone was on the same page for this high-level but philosophically interesting subject. He described the idea of an expanding observable universe, the multiworlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the inflaton field theory and how it could describe other universes popping into existence ourside of our observable window and more. After his talk, he fielded questions for the remainder of the period from a group of dedicated enthusiasts.

In addition to the lecture, we had great observing conditions on the roof. Adrian Price-Whelan led a crew of graduate volunteers on our telescopes, helping attendees see the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, the first-quarter Moon, and Jupiter. In addition Yuan Li ran the 3D visualization wall permitting attendess to see simulation results and education movies in 3 dimensional projections. Thanks to all of the 160 people we had turn out!


Monday, November 28, 2011

November 18: The Truth About Black Holes

On Friday, November 18th, over 200 astro enthusiasts gathered in Pupin to hear "The Truth About Black Holes." Dan D'Orazio shed some light on these enigmatic photon traps, discussing gravity, the equivalence principal and time as a malleable entity. Dan cut past the hype and speculation surrounding these theoretical predictions, and instead focused attention on the astrophysical contexts in which black holes exist, and how we can spot them.

Afterwards folks ascended to the roof, where Hugh Crawl, Jeff Andrews, Lauren Corlies, Sam Gordon and Lia Corralles showed visitors Jupiter, the Pleiades and Andromeda. For those who stayed downstairs, Munier Salem and Jenna Lemonias led a short quiz on Planet Trivia, which was entirely too easy for the stalwart enthusiasts.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 4: Captain Cook and the Cosmic Yardstick

Last Friday, Professor Martin Hendry, from the University of Glasgow, described how the first measurements of the size of the solar system were conducted, first by the ancient Greeks, and later refined by observations of the transit of Venus from two different towns in England. He demonstrated how the geometry of the transit, seen from two different locations, can provide enough information to determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Martin then described the voyage of the HMS Endeavor, and how the measurement of the transit of Venus from the island of Tahiti provided the most accurate measurement of the astronomical unit (AU) until Radar allowed for more refined measurements.

Following the talk, Brandon gave a talk on the next few rungs of the distance ladder, and how the measurement of the AU allows us to measure much vaster distances. Jeff, Adrian and Miao enlightened visitors with views of the Moon, Jupiter, and Uranus on the roof, lead by Sam Grunblatt. Jana expertly ran the 3D wall, highlighting some of the more exciting events in the universe, and Jia helped with organizing and ensured that visitors were able to find their way to the roof and movies. Concurrently, Martin Hendry was delivering another talk, this time for an audience of students from one of the astronomy department's other ventures, Rooftop Variables. All in all, it was a very successful night for Columbia Astronomy.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 21: Astronomy in Antarctica

Last Friday evening, we had an excellent lecture on Astronomy in Antarctica given by Dr. Ross Williamson, a research scientist at Columbia University. In his talk, Ross explained the advantages of carrying out astronomical research in Antarctica, described his interesting experience traveling and working on the South Pole Telescope, and showed us dazzling pictures along with a beautiful movie. He also talked about some current experiments and their results.

Following the lecture, Jia Liu gave a slide show on neutron stars and Yuan Li showed the movie Cosmic Collisions in the lecture hall. The sky was cloudy that evening, but our roof volunteers Jeff Andrews, Christine Simpson, Josh Schroeder, Sam Gordon and Emir Karamehmetoglu gave a nice telescope tour to the visitors. On the 13th floor, Jana Grcevich showed a 3D movie Einstein's Universe which explains how Einstein's theory of general relativity is used in Astronomy.

Thanks to the 8 volunteers and the 160 people who came to our event!


Friday, October 14, 2011

October 8: Family Astro - The Moon

This past Saturday, Columbia Outreach held Family Astro, a 2-hour event designed for children and their parents to learn about astronomy. In honor of International Observe the Moon Night, the theme of this semester's event was the Moon. Lauren Corlies and Ian Allen showed a movie depicting the formation of our moon and answered any and all related questions. Up in our big dome, Duane Lee and David Hendel displayed our biggest telescope and demonstrated the how the phases of the moon worked.

Our final and most exciting event headed by Lia Corrales asked the children to devise a spaceship(container) for an astronaut(egg) which could survive a landing on the moon (a drop). The egg drop was very successful with almost all participants successfully saving their eggs using a combination of play-doh, cups, balloons, tape and cotton balls.

The afternoon was fun and educational and we look forward to next semester's Family Astro.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 7: The City Dark

Our outreach series season continued with a screening of the documentary "The City Dark." Created by a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, the documentary examines the growth of light pollution, specifically in New York city, and the negative effects this can have. In particular, the documentary focused on how as a species we are losing our cosmic perspective and that desirable connection found by really looking at the stars.

Despite the light pollution, observing took place. Yuan Li showed visitors the moon while Duane Lee displayed Jupiter and its Galilean moons. Cameron Hummels and Adrian Price-Whelan were even able to show visitors the Ring Nebula. Before observing, others enjoyed seeing the 3D Wall with Jana Grcevic or having a discussion with Lauren Corlies and Summer Ash on the science behind the recent Nobel Prize in Physics.

Thank you to the approximately 250 people who came out for our event. You're support and interest are greatly appreciated.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

September 30: Strange New Exoplanets!

Last night we kicked off our fall outreach season with a bang! Visiting planet-hunter and astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana presented an excellent talk on the field of exoplanetary discoveries. As a researcher actively engaged in exoplanetary discoveries, he took us through the entire evolution of this exploding young field in astrophysics. This lecture was part of his book tour, promoting his new popular science book: "Strange New Worlds." He was available to sign copies of his book after the lecture.

Despite the clouds and rain, we still put on a good show. Dr. Josh Peek and Cameron Hummels explained the new results of the neutrinos which may have traveled faster than light, and later answered questions on a variety of topics in modern astrophysics. Jana Grcevic and Miao Li took visitors on tours of the telescopes and the Rutherfurd Observatory. Finally, Yuan Li operated the 3D wall, showing audience members 3D views of our Universe.

Thanks to the 160 members of the public who attended!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

August 19: Of Starquakes and Supernovae

Torrential rains and violent forks of lightning couldn't stop the die-hard Astro Fans from coming to outreach Friday night. Jennifer Weston treated us to a talk concerning neutron stars, the complex and mysterious cousins of black holes. Jennifer spoke of their extraordinary density ; so dense Mount Everest could fit into a teaspoon! Neutron stars exist as an epic battle between the forces of gravity and quantum mechanics, and Jennifer was quick to point out that these extreme conditions introduce a host of mysteries concerning the stars' composition. The talk finished by discussing pulsars: rapidly spinning neutron stars that emit focused jets of light like cosmic lighthouses. The soggy patrons could have used a spin cycle, but we're not sure Neutron stars are what they had in mind: A star the size of Manhattan completing a rotation in under a second is quite a step up from your average Maytag appliance.

After the lecture, Cameron Hummels was on hand to give tours of the observatory while Yuan Li treated visitors to our 3D Wall. Back in the lecture hall Munier Salem and Josh Schroeder hosted a game show centered around the question "How big is the Universe?" The answer involved a surprising number of soccer balls. While mysteries surrounding the cosmos remained, we're happy to report one thing had been cleared up by the end of the evening: The sky!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 5: Practical Astronomy

While we're sad that summer is ending, this happily means the return of our lecture series! We started off on an unique and interesting note with Dr. M. Ryan Joung giving a talk on how astronomy can have practical uses or in his own words, "on the usefulness of 'useless' knowledge." Ryan used many examples to highlight the advances astronomy have spurred in other fields. Did you know that your GPS system uses quasars to calibrate the positions of its satellites in the sky? Or that they rely on Einstein's theories of special and general relativity for accuracy? Ryan also pointed out that taking and processing images have been the forte of astronomers for decades. Their work with CCDs have helped make modern cameras possible. Also, image processing techniques that astronomers use to study structures in galaxies are now successfully being used to identify cancer cells. While focusing on the practical aspect of astronomy, Ryan concluded by reminding us that astronomy is beautiful and we truly do it to understand our place in the universe.

After the lecture, we were lucky enough for the clouds to stay at bay and had our first public observing session of the new semester on the roof. Munier Salem, Josh Schroeder and Christine Simpson showed people the Moon, Saturn and Albireo. Meanwhile, Jana Grcevich led people on a "Tour of the Cosmos" using the 3D wall. Finally, some remained in the lecture hall to listen to presentations about JWST and Kepler from Lauren Corlies and Yuan Li. Overall, it was a great start to the semester.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22: Gattaca

A couple of weeks ago we wrapped our summer science film series with the movie "Gattaca." Once again we had another good turn out for some sci-fi movie fun! Plus, we all had a chance to take a break from the oppressive heat of that week!

The movie centered on two main themes, genetic engineering and space travel, which mirrored both the debate in the late 90's on cloning and genetic engineering of humans and the launch of the Cassini-Huygens mission in October of 1997 (which was the release date of the movie!). After the movie, we talked about the scientific background behind genetic engineering and about the fact and fiction behind traveling to Saturn's moon Titan. Highlights of the talk included acknowledging the groundbreaking work done at Columbia, in the Fly Room, where fruit flies were used to understand genetic heredity. We also talked about the genetic engineering used today in making human insulin in bacteria. In regards to space travel, we dispelled the notion of going to Titan and back in one year and had a good discussion about future prospects in space propulsion - pointing to solar sails, ion rockets, and rail guns - a fitting discussion in light of the canceled shuttle program. I also pointed out that this movie is full of science which also includes nods to electric cars, solar energy, and genetic identification.

Two of our graduate students, Jana Grcevic and Christine Simpson, led the telescope viewing from the Low library plaza and Brandon Horn, also a grad student, helped out with movie setup. Thanks to everyone who came to watch, stayed to talk science, and gazed upon the heaven afterwards.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16, 2011: Family Astro: THE SUN

Luckily the clouds stayed away for the Family Astro event on July 16th because the topic was "The Sun". About 10 kids and 10 parents attended the event. Our first activity was tracing our shadow with chalk. We did this once at the beginning of the event, and once two hours later at the end in order to see how the position changed due to the apparent movement of the Sun through the sky. We then made scale models of the Sun and Earth out of paper to show the extreme size difference and large distance between the Sun and the Earth. Next we made our own "UV detector" bracelets out of UV color changing beads (a.k.a. Solar Energy Beads) and tested them outside and in a plastic bag covered in sunscreen. Participants then wrapped a map of the Earth around themselves and rotated like the Earth does, and we shone a lamp on them to simulate the Sun's light. This illustrated the cause of night and day and showed how it can be daytime on one side of the Earth and nighttime on the other. Finally, Graduate Student Duane Lee gave the kids and their parents a peek through a special solar telescope, and gave a tour of the telescope dome on the roof. Thanks to the volunteers for making this event a success!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Contact: Science Fiction Film Series

We had a nice crowd turn out for last week's showing of Contact, including a number of people for whom it was their first time at a Columbia Astronomy event. After the movie, we discussed the scientific background of wormholes (used as a transport mechanism in the movie), the difficulties of "listening to light" (as the Jody Foster character does numerous times), and used the Drake Equation to foster a discussion of how likely we are to actually detect alien life. After the main discussion, we had a lively discussion in the front of the lecture hall on Carl Sagan's views on religion and how those affect the movie he had a major role in writing and producing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Movie Night: The Fifth Element

This past Friday, Columbia University's astronomy program hosted its second movie screening of the summer. 45 visitors came to watch *The Fifth Element * starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, and Gary Oldman. Afterwards, Jeff Andrews led a discussion of the both the scientific possibilities and inaccuracies of the film, as well as a discussion of Plato's four classical elements. The fifth element in the movie has obvious origins in Aristotle's addition of aether as an immutable, almost heavenly fifth element, which he derived from astronomical observations. Jeff finished with a brief discussion of how Einstein's theory of relativity affects space travel through time dilation.

In two weeks on June 24, Columbia's astronomy department will be showing another classical film, *Contact*, starring Jodie Foster. Contingent upon the weather, we will also have telescopes set up on campus to look at the most interesting targets in the summer night sky. Don't miss this screening or the discussion afterwards led by one of our post-doctorates, Hugh Crowl. Considering the relative scientific accuracy of this movie, it promises to be an exciting event!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Astronomy Events

Two events happened over the last two weeks involving Columbia Astronomy's Outreach Program.

First, on Friday May 27 at 7 pm, about 30 people came to this year's inaugural Science Fiction Movie Night. Due to the success of last year's program, this year, we're screening science fiction films in Pupin Hall that have astronomical themes. Our calendar for the summer can be seen here, and there will be four additional ones before August.

May 27's movie was Red Planet starring Val Kilmer. Graduate student Lia Corrales led the discussion after the film about the various aspects of science fiction and science fact found in the movie. The people in attendance generally gave her rave reviews, if not the film. After the film, a few astronomers set up a six-inch Dobsonian telescope on College Walk and gave out free views of Saturn.

Then, last Friday, June 3, a number of Columbia Astronomers took telescopes over to Brooklyn for a star party associated with the World Science Festival. Many members of the general public came out and looked through the telescope at various astronomical targets. Hundreds of people got a chance to see Saturn, so it certainly was a success. See pictures of it here.

Don't forget: this Friday, June 10, another blockbuster movie, "The Fifth Element" will be shown with astronomy graduate student Jeff Andrews leading a discussion on the science truth and falsehoods present in the film.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

History of the Telescope

This past Friday, Alex Smith explained the importance of the telescope on astronomy, and our perception of the universe. Galileo's use of the telescope to look at the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus helped to shift from a geocentric model to a heliocentric one. He next went on to explain how Edwin Hubble discovered a whole slew of other galaxies, each one of which contained billions of stars, further expanding the limits of the universe. Alex continued to describe the development of the telescope explaining the value of sending telescopes into space and the extreme galaxies on the outer edge of the universe that have been observed with the Hubble Space Telescope. Finally, he closed with comments on the abilities of the current and next generation of telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope to be able to detect planets that potentially harbor life.

After the lecture, Brandon Horn gave a tour of the galaxy and solar system on our 3D wall, while Christine Simpson gave a tour of the dome that houses our telescope on the roof. At the same time, Duane Lee and Jeff Andrews gave a discussion of the astronomy picture of the day in the main lecture hall.

Thanks to all the volunteers and the 100 people who attended Alex's lecture.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Solstices and Equinoxes

Last night, a group of 15 elementary, home-school students and their parents visited the observatory for a discussion on how our Earth travels through the solar system and how we perceive these motions. Lia Corrales, Ian Allen and Cameron Hummels led an interactive activity which taught the kids about how the seasons, equinoxes, solstices, days and years are simply the results of how the earth rotates and orbits around the Sun. Ultimately, these topics related back to the students' lesson plan about Incan and Peruvian astronomy and how these people's used the equinox and solstice for the agricultural calendar. The students were very intelligent and had great questions on a variety of topics. Thanks to all of the participants!


Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29: PS 24 visit to the department

Today, four astronomy students helped PS 24 students explore the sun and the moon and astronomical observations through telescopes. Students were treated to a lively activity session with graduate student Brandon Horn who showed them the relative sizes of the Earth and the Sun and explained how the Earth-Moon-Sun system worked. On the roof of Pupin, a clear morning helped the students get views of the sun through our solar telescope and the moon which was a thin sliver against the morning sky. The children also got to see how the dome worked and many said they'd like to come back on a Friday night to look through the telescopes at night.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Eclipses on a Friday Night.

We had 104 visitors for the talk "Our Eclipsing Universe" by Laura
Vican. Laura began by talking about Lunar and Solar eclipses, and then
talked about stellar binary eclipses and how we can find new planets
using planetary transits. Unfortunately the skies were cloudy and so
observing couldn't occur, but Christine Simpson gave tours of the
domes, and Yuan Li showed a 3D movie about the Sun. Jia Liu gave a
slideshow about gravitational waves, and Jana Grcevich talked about
how the Earth got its water in honor of Earth Day. Many thanks to our
all female volunteer cast for making the evening a success!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Interacting Galaxies

Last night, Hugh Crowl dazzled us with a lecture on interacting galaxies. He demonstrated how galaxies, like our own Milky Way, are social creatures living in clusters and groups. He showed how galaxies interact with their neighbors and what impact that these interactions had on the overall life of a galaxy, Galaxy-related NASA posters and bookmarks were given out to the attendees. We followed his talk with a 3D wall demonstration by Jeff Andrews, and a discussion of research going on in the department by Dr. Josh Peek and Cameron Hummels. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperative, so we were unable to break out the telescopes and look at the sky; however, Erika Hamden led telescope tours for attendees interested in seeing the Rutherfurd Observatory.

Thanks to all of the 100 people who turned out for this great event!


Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28: A visit to PS 282 in Park Slope, Brooklyn

Today, March 28, 2011, in the morning three Columbia University Astronomy Department graduate students and one undergraduate visited PS 282 in Brooklyn with two telescopes in tow. As the moon was a few days past third-quarter phase, it was possible to see both the sun and the moon! 120 first graders braved the cold and waited patiently for their turn to take a look at each of these celestial objects. Many of them had never looked through a telescope before and were very excited that they could see dark and light spots and even a few craters on the moon's surface as well as sunspots on the Sun. At the end of the visit, each class was presented with 3D images of the Sun, posters, and some CD-ROMs for distribution among the students.

Many thanks to the volunteers who made the trek out to another borough to help raise astronomy awareness.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 25, 2011: Ancient East Asian Astronomy

This past Friday we had an excellent lecture on ancient east Asian astronomy given by graduate student Joo Heon Yoon. The talk focused on ancient astronomical techniques from Joo's homeland of Korea. Joo described how modern astronomers and historians can use observations made by ancient astronomers to constrain both scientific models and historical theories.

Hazy weather obscured the view for most of the night, but our roof volunteers persevered and gave visitors views of M44, the Orion nebula and Sirius. Our roof volunteers Neil Zimmerman, Richard Darst, Bryan Terrazas, Dan D'Orazio and Ian Allen did a great job. Graduate student Yuan Li also showed visitors 3d visualizations astronomical topics spanning the universe from the solar system to the formation of large scale structure. A few people stuck around in the lecture hall for slide shows on star clusters and exoplanet detection led by Christine Simpson.

Thanks to all our volunteers and to the 120 people who came to our


Monday, March 14, 2011

March 11, 2011: IceCube Astronomy

On March 11, one of our senior undergraduates majoring in astrophysics, David Fierroz, gave a talk about a neutrino telescope that he worked on last summer, IceCube. David talked about how IceCube was built at the South Pole and he described the long trip to get there. About 150 visitors came by to hear how the telescope is opening up a new branch of astronomy, discovering objects in a completely new way. As arguably the largest telescope in the world, IceCube will be able to observe some of the most extreme phenomena in the universe including supernova, and supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

Afterwards, one of our incoming graduate students, Jia Liu, gave a talk about a standard day and night at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Also, one of our graduating students explained how Stellarium works and showed the conjunction of planets over the year. While the weather was not great enough to look at stars through the telescope, we were able to give tours of the telescope roof and dome, and even look at the moon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Family Astro: Telescopes!

We had over 50 people visit for Family Astro Saturday on March 5, 2011 including both children and parents. The topic was telescopes. The kids learned about different types of telescopes, including the Hubble space telescope and the way that astronauts fixed it. Then everyone got a chance to observe pictures they drew of objects in space through small telescopes. In one activity, kids pretended to be light moving at different speeds as it was being bent, just like it would be as it went through a lens. We also made models of telescopes using paper cups, and used balls of different sizes to show how different types of telescopes are able to catch different wavelengths of light. Finally, we watched a 3D movie about galaxies. Thanks to the volunteers, Jana, Jennifer, Lia, Brandon, and Yuan for helping out and making the event a success!

Monday, February 28, 2011

February 25, 2011: The Gamma-ray universe

Last Friday, about 70 people attended a lecture by Dr. Rene Ong from UCLA about viewing the universe in gamma rays. Dr. Ong talked about the unique issues with observing the most highly energetic photons and also gave the audience a virtual tour of VERITAS, an array of four telescopes in Arizona that monitor the night skies for the Cherenkov radiation that emanates when extremely energetic photons collide with the atmosphere. A number of astronomical objects have already been detected by VERITAS and other telescopes around the world that are similar in design to it. These observations have complemented observations made by other gamma-ray observatories including a space-based gamma ray observatory that was launched two years ago: the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope. These observations are probing some of the most energetic environments of the universe and are giving us information about what the conditions are like in environments where there are extreme physical conditions including neutron stars, black holes, active galaxies and quasars, and microquasars.

After the lecture, the skies were unfortunately too cloudy to allow for observing, but a small tour did happen for those who wanted to see the facilities at least. Additionally, Columbia University graduate student, Duane Lee, gave a slideshow presentation featuring the images from Astronomy Picture of the Day. This website updates daily with a new image of astronomical import with an explanation written by a professional astronomer. Many astronomy enthusiasts mark the page as their homepage to give them a taste of astronomy every day when they log-on to their computers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 11, 2010: Galactic Sleuthing Lecture and Public Observing

This past Friday, Dr. Allyson Sheffield, a current post-doc of the Columbia Astronomy department, gave a talk entitled, ''Galactic Sleuthing: Unraveling the Milky Way’s Past.'' In her talk, Allyson described two prevailing models for galactic formation. First, 'monolithic collapse' posits that a galactic-sized gas reservoir (of Hydrogen and Helium) collapses all at once, creating an old population halo of stars first and then flattens out into a disk composed of younger stars. Second, she presented the theory of 'hierarchical merging' that posits that galaxies are built up from the accretion of smaller galaxies and the merging of bigger ones.

Allyson then talked about how we can determine which scenario better describes the evolutionary path of our own galaxy by looking at both the group motions of stars and their shared chemical abundances. By showing us data and simulations by Rodrigo Ibata and his collaborators and by our very own Prof. Kathryn Johnston, respectively, she showed us how the merging Sagittarius dwarf galaxy was discovered by surveying stellar velocities in the galaxy along with models that describe how the dwarf galaxy would currently look which were later confirmed by additional chemical abundance observations.

Finally, she showed us how one can merge the two indicators of common ancestry to look at moving groups closer to us and determine if evidence for other accreted dwarf galaxy remnants remain in the galaxy by looking at the spectra of stars with similar peculiar velocities. She found that she could likely link certain groups to larger ones seen in the galactic halo stellar streams by models that would predict the location of these peculiar stars. Given her research and the other research she presented, we learned that merging plays a significant role in galaxy evolution and that one can recount this evolution based on remnants of past accretion events.

We had a great turn out and our attendees made full use of our facilities by watching astronomy visualizations on our 3-D wall, ran by graduate student Jana Grcevich, and by going to the roof to stargaze. It's cool to think that many of the stars we observed, including our own, exhibit group origins or movements that were probably even more defined in the past.

Thanks to the 8 volunteers and the 130 people who attended our lecture and observing night!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sidewalk Astronomy returns to Harlem

Freezing temperatures and fierce winds did not stop Alex, Jennifer, Brandon, and Neil from carrying on with stargazing plans at 125th street last night. Setting up two telescopes in front of an H+M store, they showed about 100 passersby a great view of the waxing crescent Moon. During the bus ride to the observing spot, Alex snapped a shot of the other volunteers and their scopes. All are looking forward to repeating the excursion on warmer evenings in the months ahead.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Supernovae and Gamma-Ray Bursts!

Last night we had a great outreach event featuring a talk by Dr. Maryam Modjaz. She captivated the audience with a lecture about some of the largest explosions in the Universe: gamma-ray bursts and supernovae. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperative, so we weren't able to observe the night sky after the talk. We did offer telescope tours, a 3D wall demonstration of astrophysical phenomena and Yuan Li and Cameron Hummels offered several slideshows on exoplanets and the Winter sky.

Thanks to all 100 attendees for a successful evening of science!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Visit from Harlem Academy

This morning, we had 15 students and three instructors from Harlem Academy tour the department. They were treated to a presentation on what's visible from the night sky, the observing on Kitt Peak National Observatory and a tour of the big dome. The students had enthusiastic and knowledgeable questions about astronomy and were treated to Hubble Posters and Trading Cards at the end of the event when they headed off to the American Museum of Natural History.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Black Holes and a cold winter's night viewing of the heavens

On January 14, 90 people joined six Columbia Astronomy Department volunteers to learn all about black holes from Dr. Sean T. McWilliams who gave a wonderful lecture on the upcoming observations by LIGO and LISA that may lead us to the first detection of gravitational waves from black holes. After his lecture, attendees were treated to a presentation by Andrew Brown on the issues relating to the in-the-news hoopla over the sidereal versus tropical zodiacs, missions to Mars, and the evolution of stars. Simultaneously on the 13th floor, Cameron Hummels gave a 3D tour of various astronomical observations and simulations to an enthusiastic crowd keeping warming from the main event: a tour of Jupiter, the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and the moon by volunteers Duane Lee, Erika Hamden, and Christine Simpson.