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"AstroFest 2008" Provides an Evening of Astronomy Activities and Stargazing During Arts Festival

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A free festival of astronomy will be held from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 July, through Saturday, 12 July, on the Penn State University Park campus. The 10th annual "AstroFest" is sponsored by the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The popular four-day event, which draws about 2,000 visitors each year, is made possible by the efforts of more than 60 faculty, staff, and student volunteers.

All ages are welcome to attend and to participate in a variety of activities. Events are free and will be conducted rain or shine in classrooms and in the planetarium located on the fifth floor of Davey Laboratory.

Presentations will be given each night on a wide range of topics, including the search for life in the universe, great astronomical disasters, and a hands-on demonstration of "night vision astronomy." In addition, AstroFest is offering a redesigned series of 3-dimensional tours of Mars, the Milky Way, and the universe beyond our Galaxy. "We're introducing a lot of new topics and activities this year," said Brendan Mullan, a graduate student in the department who is helping to organize the event. "The popular 3-dimensional tours have been almost completely redesigned, and the presentations feature a lot of new technology and content that we that haven't used before."

AstroFest invites people of all ages to celebrate astronomy. For children, there are crafts, solar-system tours, a "Driver's Education" class for a Mars rover, planetarium shows, an opportunity to build a comet, and much more. Kids also are encouraged to participate in building a "passport" which, when filled with stamps that are gathered upon completion of various activities, enables them to win small astronomy-themed prizes.

If the sky is clear, visitors will have the opportunity to observe a number of astronomical objects through the telescopes on the rooftop observatory of Davey Laboratory. The planet Jupiter and its moons will be in an ideal position in the sky during this time, as will our own Moon and its prominent craters. To top it off, fuzzy nebulae and clusters of millions of stars also will be featured on the stargazing menu.

"Davey Laboratory is very close to where the Arts Festival will be held and, therefore, it is a convenient location for people to drop by in the evening and see what's going on at Astrofest," said Jane Charlton , a professor of astronomy and astrophysics, and the organizer of Astrofest. "Even though there will be plenty to do indoors if the weather doesn't cooperate, we are hoping for clear skies and another record-setting attendance for this year's events."

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Jane Charlton: (+1) 814-863-6040, jcharlton@astro.psu.edu

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