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.