By Chris O’Neill
A flash of light in the corner of your eye wrests your attention from the southern night sky. You turn your head in the direction of the bright beacon and your classmates’ exclamations to be rewarded with the multi colored display of a dying meteor. The red and green glow of the cosmic fireworks fade as the object burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Welcome to Astronomy Lab at DCCC, a course for students interested in learning the necessary tools used to observe, calculate, and fathom the universe. This one credit course is offered to science and non-science majors alike with the co-requisite of the three credit Introduction to Astronomy course.
“I took Astronomy because I needed a science, but out of the sciences offered here, astronomy was the most interesting one,” said history major Camden Bales. Bales explained that he had already been fond of stargazing with friends and with his new found knowledge from the course he is recognizing more and more.
In fact, this year is a particularly eventful year for taking an interest in astronomy at DCCC because, according to broadcast meteorologist Joe Rao, who writes for the Mercury, “August 21 will mark the first time in this century and the first time since 1979 that a total solar eclipse will cross the contiguous United States (Alaska had its turn in 1990; Hawaii in 1991). And for the very first time ever, the shadow track—better known as the ‘path of totality’—will sweep only over the United States and no other country, leading some to refer to this upcoming event as ‘The Great American Eclipse.’”
Rao explained that a total solar eclipse occurs because although the sun’s 864,000-mile diameter is 400 times larger than the moon’s, the moon is roughly 400 times closer to Earth. Due to this fact, when orbital planes intersect, and the distances are just right along their elliptical orbits, the new moon will appear to completely block out the sun.
Although the event will not be visible in all states, Rao said, “The total solar eclipse…will mark the first time in nearly four decades that such an event will be visible so close to home. ‘Close,’ of course, is a relative term, but for most Americans, this spectacular phenomenon will be visible from their own backyards.”
This year also marks another first in the realm of astronomy by way of the first ever predicted binary star merger.
According to Calvin College professor and astronomer Larry Molnar’s prediction, the stars known jointly as KIC 9832227, which are located in the northern part of the constellation Cygnus, will likely collide in 2022. This collision will cause an explosion visible to the naked eye and is predicted to be as bright as the north star Polaris.
“This will be our first chance to give a theorist a very specific description of what the star was like in advance,” said Molnar in an interview with RT America. “With all these specifics it will allow a model that would truly allow us to understand the explosions, whereas today we are just guessing.”
In light of this years’ cosmic highlights, current students in DCCC’s astronomy courses are understandably enthusiastic.
“I like taking pictures of the moon because the moon is actually a fascinating thing,” said liberal arts major Valentina Kariouk. “You can’t see it with the naked eye, the little crevasses and everything.”
Kariouk explained that the camera allowed the viewer to really grasp the depth and intricacies on the surface of the moon. “It’s not just a plain boring ball of light in the sky,” she added.
“Astronomy to me means endless possibilities,” said theater major Hyresh Corbin-Davis. “I see myself using some form of astronomy in many aspects of my life.”
Corbin-Davis further explained that he found many of the skills recently gleaned from the course such as being able to locate Polaris (the North Star), to not only be useful but rewarding as well.
“We try to get information out to people to encourage them to take notice of what is up in the sky,” said astronomy professor Gil Godwin, who teaches the lab. “And to not have their face looking down all the time but to check out what is up there and how it relates to what’s going on in the universe.”
Contact Christopher O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org