Astronomers: Look up after dusk

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

 

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By Shawna Daly

 

Discover what’s unveiled after dusk in DCCC’s astronomy programs and explore the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. The College’s Earth and Space Science program welcomes non-science majors with a cosmic curiosity.

Introduction to Astronomy teaches theories of universal origin and explains the history of mapping constellations, solar and lunar patterns, planetary motion, and the plausibility of life beyond our own.

This three-credit course is available at night and offers three lecture hours.

The Introduction to Astronomy Laboratory is a two-hour class with a co- requisite of Introduction to Astronomy, also open to non-science majors.

Professor Gil Godwin teaches this course and encourages students to excite their imaginations. “My philosophy is, ‘I’m gonna have fun,” Godwin said.

The laboratory is unlike traditional classrooms: there are magazines strewn about the desks, word jumbles and brain teasers taped to the walls, colorful posters,

and the cardinal directions tacked up so students can get oriented.

There are solar system models, constellation maps, and a projector for automated tours of the southern sky and its development throughout winter months.

Using star charts and other precise instruments, students are able to tour the Solar System and Milky Way galaxy with respect to distant stellar objects. There is a Dobsonian and a Zhumell telescope with a spotter scope and fine-tuning eyepiece;

both scopes have an eight-inch diameter.

From daylight to sunset, Godwin views the sun with his specialized filter and at night he observes his favorite constellation, Orion the Hunter. “I look up for five minutes and can’t say anything,” Godwin says. “That’s Orion, oh my gosh.”

Students will be able to identify stars and planets, recognize constellations, describe the phases of the moon, and understand planetary motion. “When you see the Milky way it’ll just stomp you,” Godwin says.

According to Godwin, DCCC’s ESS program allows students to ignite their creativity and discover new perspectives. “Always look up… and keep looking up,” Godwin says.

This is the season to explore the cosmos at other local observatories as well. The crisp air and clear atmosphere bring stargazers together to enjoy the unseen spectacles of the universe.

The Peter van de Kamp observatory at Swarthmore College allows attendees to take turns looking through their telescope.

The observatory door glows deep red, leading to the upper platform. The dome overhead opens and the equatorial telescope turns towards the sky.

The telescope is 10 feet high and houses a reflective mirror 2 feet in diameter and paired with an 8 inch Meade spotter scope.

 

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Viewers can capture distant stars, nebulae, and planetary details such as Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s infamous storm.Swarthmore Astronomy Professor Eric Jensen says his favorite celestial objects to observe at the event are the two largest planets in our solar system. “Saturn is the best,” he says. “Because people don’t know what to expect.”

He says some people look at Saturn and say, “That’s not real; it’s just a picture.” Besides Saturn, Jensen says Jupiter

surprises viewers the most. “I like to see the stripes on Jupiter and the moons around it,” Jensen says.

Galileo discovered four large moons that orbit Jupiter, referred to as the Galilean

moons. Ganymede, a major moon, is the largest in the solar system; even bigger than planet Mercury, but without proper equipment, these moons are invisible to the naked eye.

“Making the case for astronomy is different than other sciences,” Jensen says. “It’s in the category of art, music, and the beauty of the world.”

To conclude the viewing, high- resolution binoculars and smaller telescopes are staged for personal use.

Jensen and Swarthmore Astronomy Professor David Cohen, who choose the object of interest and promote curious questions and comments, host the viewings open to the public.

Directions to the college are available online. Signs and arrows on campus make navigating to the rooftop simple.

Many other colleges host similar public events as well, each with unique equipment.

Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell holds free Community Open Nights atop their observation deck as well as public viewings in their observatory, located in the Advanced Technology Center near the Morris Road entrance.

MCCC offers the largest of all Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. Their scope is designed for deep space viewing and unguided image tracking to capture images of supernovae and neighboring galaxies.

According to Discovery Telescopes, the sixteen-inch Meade, “…fulfills the most demanding state-of-the-art requirements for the school, college, or university.”

Check the event calendar on MCCC website. Directions are available online.

MCCC is co-sponsored with astronomical associations like Bucks- Mont Astronomical Association (BMAA), Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers (DVAA), and Ches-Mont Astronomical Society (CAS).

Unlike the programs at DCCC, Swarthmore, and MCCC, DVAA is not exclusive to a university. DVAA is an independent organization that consists of amateur astronomers, students and

professors from different universities, and anyone enticed by the allure of outer space. According to DVAA the organization invites the public to “look through our

telescopes and ask plenty of questions.” With meetings at Radnor Township’s municipal building, French Creek, and a star party at the Valley Forge Model Airplane Field, DVAA is the largest group

of its kind in Delaware County. According to Jensen, these “destination gatherings” bring stargazers together from different counties and the locations are chosen to maximize effective viewing conditions.

“There’s a lot of light around here,” Jensen adds. “So DVAA meets where there isn’t much light pollution.”

Cross your fingers for dark, clear skies and check the DVAA event calendar posted online along with directions to meeting locations.

Partnered with DVAA, Ches-Mont Astronomical Society also encourages amateur astronomers to, “get a telescope, point it at the night sky and look.” CAS, a non-profit organization, invites astronomy enthusiasts of all ages to their free events.

CAS members work in tandem with the Astronomical League, one of the largest amateur astronomical organizations in the world.

The membership provides exclusive access to events, discounts on astronomy magazines, and assists in funding for the “star parties,” presentations, and other public events.

Additionally, CAS schedules their monthly meetings around the full moon and hosts an annual StarFest with thousands of attendees.

Upcoming events are posted online.

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