Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 16: Living with the Stars

Dr. Helena Uthas's talk was of a different strain than most of our previous outreach events. She shared her experiences of the three years she spent as a support astronomer on the beautiful and isolated Spanish island of La Palma, off the coast of western Africa. It is one of the prime spots for astronomy in the world today, having the best “seeing” available on our little blue planet (seeing is how much the atmosphere perturbs the images of stars as seen through a telescope).

In this personal narrative, Dr. Uthas walked the audience of ~180 people through her time at the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) and the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) and the life of an astronomer in such a remote location. We were shocked and impressed by the difficult loneliness that such a job requires, yet there also was a sense of lusting for the introspection afforded being in one of the most beautiful and untouched natural vistas in the world. After this captivating mix of science, nature, and self, the majority of the audience went up for observing. We had almost 200 people on the roof throughout the event, and our telescopes were pointed at the extremely bright Jupiter, along with the Pleiades star cluster and the Andromeda galaxy. Several people stayed in the lecture hall for a slideshow on galaxies. The evening wrapped up around 9 pm leaving attendees having played astronomer over the skyline of New York City and vicariously experiencing the life of an observational astronomer through Dr. Uthas.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

October 19: The Universe is My Lab

On October 19th, graduate student, Or Graur from the American Museum of Natural History, addressed a question always asked of astronomers - "What exactly do you do?"  Or walked an audience of 70 people through the process taken to publish his most recent work on supernovae - from forming the hypothesis to testing it with telescopes and equipment to finally creating the scientific plot of merit.  It was a great inside look at how we practice astronomy today.

Unfortunately, the weather was less than stellar and roof observing was not possible.  However, our 3D movie wall provided entertainment after the talk.