Starry Eyed for Last Time

Last Thursday, students participated in one of their last opportunities to spend “A Night with the Stars” at the UC Irvine Observatory.

Brendan Yu | New University

Brendan Yu | New University

 

Hosted by ASUCI’s Department of Academic Affairs in collaboration with the Department of Astronomy, Thursday marked the second to last opportunity for Anteaters to visit the observatory, which is being relocated next year to make way for future housing developments.

Over 500 undergraduates made their way toward the outskirts of campus via campus shuttles, which ran throughout the night, to visit the observatory before it’s moved to an off-campus location.

The first “Night with the Stars,” held back in fall attracted only 200 visitors, so the number of attendees came as a pleasant surprise to the students and faculty who worked to plan the event.

“As soon as the e-mail came out, we got over 500 RSVPs overnight. It’s great, and it’s definitely unexpected in the sense of how passionate students actually are about going on a little field trip to discover something they have never seen before,” Skyla Zhang, the vice-president of ASUCI’s Academic Affairs, said.

Tim Carleton, the observatory’s director of outreach, kicked off the evening with a talk that explained the functions of the observatory as well as some basic concepts about astronomy and space.

According to Carleton, the telescope is typically only used for educational and community outreach purposes, as it isn’t powerful enough to conduct research with.

“Because it’s a smaller telescope, it’s a great telescope to learn on,” Carleton said. “If you’re a young, developing astronomer you can do some interesting projects that don’t require as vast an amount of resources that some of the bigger projects require.”

Due to unfavorable cloudy conditions, however, some eager attendees were unable to realize their hopes of catching sight of planets and constellations through the telescope.

“Tonight, if it weren’t so cloudy, we would have been able to see Saturn in the east, Mars would have been directly overhead, and Jupiter would have been west,” Liuyi Pei, a graduate student who studies astrophysics, said. “It would have been a great night because it’s not that often you get to see three planets at once.”

Despite the lack of visible stars in the sky, the majority of students remained engaged with the other activities conducted throughout the evening.

Following the lecture, students were given the opportunity to participate in a “Solar Walk,” where a graduate student guided them through a scale model of the solar system.

The majority of students lined up to explore the 24-inch telescope located within the observatory’s dome. Others gazed at local city lights through several smaller portable telescopes.

Volunteers and staff took solace in seeing just how many students were interested enough to come out and visit the observatory before it is relocated.

“I’ve done five of these events and this is probably double the most amount people I’ve seen. It’s great that all these students are coming out here to learn about astronomy,” Sky Phillips, a third-year physics major, said. “That’s kind of our goal, to try and expose students who maybe who don’t have the opportunity to look at this stuff.”

The Astronomy Department will host its final visitors night on June 21, where assistant professor Kevork N. Abazajian will deliver a lecture exploring the nuances of dark matter.