Event Dates for Fall 2015 Semester

Our first open house of this year was held on September 25th, and despite cloud cover preventing us from observing, we still had a successful event with crafts, activities, and an exoplanet talk by junior Arjun Khandelwal.

We will host two more open houses this semester. We hope you join us!

Friday October 23rd, 7:30

  • Raindate: Friday, October 30th, 7:30
  • Talk: Studying Dwarf Galaxies with Subaru Telescope and Hyper-Suprime Cam, Chris Garling

Friday, December 4th, 6:30

  • Raindate: Friday, December 11th, 6:30
  • Talk: TBD

April open house concludes year of observing

On April 24, Haverford’s Public Observing Astronomy Program proudly hosted the an Astronomy Night in as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival. Over 200 guests packed into the Strawbridge Observatory and adjacent fields for a variety of astronomy-related activities.

Before sunset, two Haverford students led Solar System Walk, scaled down so the sun was the size of a basketball. The tour illustrated the vast expanse of our solar system; the group proceeded across the athletic fields without reaching outermost planets.

Inside, younger guests built their own mobiles, while others mastered four levels of astronomy trivia. Older visitors participated in virtual observing through Observing With NASA (mo-www.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/OWN/Own.pl) and were excited to look at images from anything up in the sky that night. A cloud chamber demonstration helped visitors visualize the paths of high energy particles in the upper atmosphere. Another creative demo utilized marbles and fabric to illustrate Einstein’s Theory of general relativity.

Families enjoy building their planetary mobiles.
Families enjoy building their planetary mobiles.

 

Young scientists at the cloud chamber demo.
Young scientists at the cloud chamber demo.

 

Visitors wear their special glasses to learn about high energy particles at the cloud chamber demo.
Visitors wear their special glasses to learn about high energy particles at the cloud chamber demo.

 

The general relativity demo engages young scientists.
The general relativity demo engages young scientists.

 

After sunset, groups of visitors went upstairs to observe the clear sky through the two telescopes housed in the domes of the Strawbridge Observatory. The telescopes were popular, as guests observed Jupiter (with its Great Red Spot and some of its moons!), Mars, and the moon, to name a few.

Visitors and volunteers shared many smiles and looks of wonder throughout the evening, as the exchange of science and the intrigue of astronomy captivated many minds (both young and not-so-young). We thank all of our guests for a successful year of astronomy events and we hope to see you return for more events next fall!

 

The Strawbridge Observatory is packed with visitors during the annual Open House.
The Strawbridge Observatory is packed with visitors during the annual Open House.

Constellations and Chasing Planets

 

Despite dreary weather, fifty guests came to the Strawbridge Observatory for a constellation-themed event last Saturday.

As members of the public arrived, they engaged in a constellation art activity. They creatively drew and colored their own renditions of the animals outlined by different constellations.

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Haverford student Sarah Betti, ’17 then presented a talk about constellations, providing the history of constellations and how they are helpful. She even provided tips on how to locate common constellations in the spring sky of Philadelphia.

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Cloudy skies loomed over the observatory telescopes, so observing did not seem likely. Haverford student volunteers instead led tours through the observatory to the domes so guests could learn about the telescopes and the observing process.

As the crowd thinned down, several guests and volunteers noticed that a gap in the clouds exposed the moon. Students on telescope duty quickly opened the domes to provide a view.

Within minutes the moon was obscured, but nearby Venus was visible. Telescopes were urgently re-oriented to show Venus, before it, too, disappeared behind the clouds.

Fortunately the skies parted for Jupiter, and the evening concluded with a telescope view of the gas giant and its moons.

If the whole crowd from the earlier talk had been present, only a few people would have seen each object as the telescopes were rapidly rotated.

The small crowd that remained through the end of the event enjoyed the exhilarating chase of different objects as they became visible in the sky. They were lucky to experience such fast-paced observing.

Thanks to all the guests who joined us and to all the student volunteers who hosted such a fun event!

Audience Engaged by Cosmology Talk

Last Saturday, cloudy skies forced the Public Observing team to keep the telescopes closed up. Despite the lack of observing, the 50 or so guests enjoyed an inquisitive night of science fun!

Haverford astronomy student Andrea Gaughan ’16 presented a talk about cosmology, raising some of the big questions about our universe, for example, its formation, size and age.

Members of the audience, including members of a local Boy Scout troop, were captivated by her talk and challenged the Public Observing team with a number of thoughtful questions about our universe. Topics of this lively discussion ranged from life on other planets to the meager future of our sun to the status of Pluto as a dwarf planet.

After the talk, guests lingered, enjoying tours of the telescope domes, astronomy crafts, and videos.

Thanks to everyone who came out last week and made the event a success! We hope you join us for our next event in March!

Andrea Gaughan '16 presents her Cosmology talk.
Andrea Gaughan ’16 presents her talk.

 

Audience captivated by cosmology talk.
Audience captivated by cosmology talk.

Overheard in Special Collections: “I would totally kick it with Enrico Fermi”

Today, our Astronomical Ideas class (taught by Desika Narayanan and I) had the luxury of meeting in Haverford’s Special Collections wing of the library. The precious nature of our holdings is only exceeded by the intellectual and personal generosity of the staff (namely Ann Upton and Sarah Horowitz, who we’ve worked with extensively) and by the philosophy of the department – These materials are meant to be interacted with.

Here, Sarah is explaining the motivation for the plates inserted into this first edition of Newton’s Principia:

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Here is Enrico Fermi’s positive response to his invitation to visit Haverford College in the 1950’s, and an accompanying Haverford College newspaper article about the visit:

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(As viewed over our 1st edition of Copernicus’s 1543 Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres) Students are enjoying the Principia and a 16th century book about sundials, that the library only recently received:

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Edwin Schroedinger was a real card, as evidenced by this handwritten letter from him to Haverford’s president in the 1950’s. I’m not sure if he ever did accept Haverford’s invitation to visit:

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Students gather around a first edition of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, as well as letters from Fermi and Schroedinger to Haverford, and a letter from Maria Mitchell about a borrowed sextant:

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“What is that?” “That is Isaac Newton’s signature on a bill!” as other students casually flip through our Copernicus and Newton books:

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Remote Observing at Apache Point Observatory

This week, we had two half nights to observe on the 3.5m ARC telescope at Apache Point Observatory. Last Spring, I took 5 students to APO to use this telescope on site. After going on that trip, we were officially checked out to use the telescope remotely from right here in Haverford.

On Sunday, Chris Nagele (’16) and I observed from my dining room. Conditions were tough – blowing snow on the mountain – so we only had a couple of hours on sky, and with poor image quality. Last night, we had clear and cold conditions and we able to observe for our entire 7 hour window. Despite some rookie mistakes made by me that lost us about 30 minutes of time, we accomplished our mission to observe some galaxy spectra with the DIS instrument.

Jonathan Hargis (postdoc), Alison Marqusee (’16) and Eric Smith (’15) assisted with the observations in my office, while Dave Sand and Paul Bennet (Texas Tech) Skype’ed in and assisted from Lubbock, Texas. We all ate too many snacks.

Here, I’m showing Alison and Eric a galaxy spectrum that Dave sent over after a quick analysis:

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Now we’re smiling for Jonathan to show that we aren’t all business:

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All six of us were working in Texas and Haverford on different computers on different tasks. Here, Jonathan is checking the spectroscopic data and Eric is filling in our observing log:

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NSF AST-1151462, the Boughn-Gollub-Partridge Fund, the KINSC, and the Green Fund provide support for our student-faculty collaborative work on the ARC 3.5m telescope at Apache Point Observatory.

A visit from alum Maya Barlev (’12)

On Monday, November 10, Maya Barlev stopped by Strawbridge Observatory. She talked about her Watson Fellowship experience, and her work in astronomy outreach and education since then. It was a treat to spend an hour with Maya and current Haverford students over tea and donuts. What a great visit!

(In photo – Top: Lee Rosenthal (’15), Chris Nagele (’16), Maya Barlev (’12), Eric Smith (’15); Bottom: Sarah Betti (’17), Rui Fang (’17), Arjun Khandelwal (’17)).

Maya Barlev, November 2014 visit
Maya Barlev, November 2014 visit

Spooky Astronomy Fun!

The Haverford Public Observing Program hosted a Halloween-themed open house last weekend. Despite the rainy weather, we had a great turn out; over seventy guests joined us for a night of fun science!

Our liquid nitrogen station led by Rui, Derrick, and Eric, was a popular destination! Learning about the physical properties of this cold liquid becomes even more exciting when the liquid nitrogen helps young scientists make ice cream! Yum!

Rui and Derrick are ready for the visitors!

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Liquid nitrogen at work, captivating young scientists.

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Young visitors eagerly await the liquid nitrogen ice cream!

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Across the room, Lyn, Mike, and Chris manned the Messy Mars station. Young scientists were invited to learn about Martian water presence and surface morphology via their own hands on experiments with some sand!

Some Brownies observe the Messy Mars demo.

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Tamar and Matteo invited visitors to learn about neutron stars by making clay pulsars! Meanwhile, Cora and Rachel led some planetary crafts, while Alison and Arjun performed an exciting eclipse demo.

Fun with clay pulsars

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Craft table!

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Alison interacts with a guest during the eclipse demo.

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A highlight of the night was Dan Deluzio’s (2015) exciting astronomy talk. He fielded numerous questions about black holes after sparking everyone’s interest.

Guests engaged in Dan’s spooky talk!
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Thanks to all of our wonderful visitors who attended despite the weather; you all made the night fun for the Haverford volunteers! And thanks to the volunteers for your time and enthusiasm.

We hope to see you all at our next event (weather permitting) on November 15 at 6:30 when we open the telescopes for some observing!

NSF AST-1151462 provides support for our public outreach programs.

More from Kitt Peak 2014

We have a few more pictures and anecdotes to share from our trip to Kitt Peak. After a productive Thursday night of observing, we drove to the 2.5 – m telescope  around 2 AM to meet John Thorstensen, a Haverford alumnus who is a professor at Dartmouth. On Friday morning, we drove into Tucson for lunch and a trip to the Tucson Desert Museum. I highly recommend visiting this museum; much of it is outdoors, and it hosts a myriad of local animals and plant life.

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Here we are at the Tucson Desert Museum,

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And here is one of the friends we made there. After touring the desert and returning to Kitt Peak for another night of observing, we toured the 4 – m telescope. We walked out of the control room and into the dome just as a group of tourists came up the stairs; they thought we were resident scientists!

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A few people in the tour group asked for Jonathan’s autograph; this was definitely a highlight of the trip.

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We miss Kitt Peak already. Expect more posts soon about our observing experiences and the undergrad astronomy experience.

NSF AST-1151462, the Boughn-Gollub-Partridge Fund, the KINSC, and the Green Fund provide support for our student trips to observatories.

Fall break at Kitt Peak National Observatory

Yesterday, five Haverford astronomers arrived at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, with a few observing objectives. We flew into Tuscon during Tuesday, and drove to Kitt Peak yesterday after grabbing groceries for the week.

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Here we (Matteo Miazzo, Chris Garling, Lee Rosenthal, and Alison Marqusee, minus Jonathan, who took the photo) are at the entrance to KPNO. The mountains in Arizona are awe inspiring, as are the telescopes.

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The Mayall 4 – meter telescope dominates this picture, but we have views like this one most everywhere on the mountain. This week, we are observing on the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope. Haverford belongs to the WIYN consortium, a group of schools that share time on a 3.5 – meter and a 0.9 – meter telescope. We are hoping to observe the Persei twin globular clusters and maybe a few other Galactic objects of interest. We set up the 0.9 – meter last night, and although we had to close up early due to technical difficulties we learned plenty about how to operate the telescope.

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Alison was the first to fill the liquid nitrogen dewer for the S2KB camera last night, and we look forward to taking data tonight!

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We explored the 4 – meter telescope this morning, and got to see the 500 – ton dome rotate about this behemoth of a machine.

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We will be here until Sunday morning, and will keep the blog updated with our astronomical adventures!

NSF AST-1151462, the Boughn-Gollub-Partridge Fund, the KINSC, and the Green Fund provide support for our student trips to observatories.