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AstroFest 2015 is Four Evenings of Astronomy Activities and Stargazing During Arts Festival

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07 July 2015
Astro Fest 2015
Astro Fest 2015

Penn State University's popular "AstroFest" program, a four-night festival of astronomy activities and stargazing during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, will welcome visitors from Wednesday, July 8 through Saturday, July 11 from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. each night. All ages are welcome to participate in a variety of exciting and educational activities sponsored by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Events are free and will occur rain or shine in classrooms and in the planetarium located on the fifth floor of Davey Laboratory.

On clear nights, visitors will be treated to views of Saturn, with its magnificent rings, and Jupiter and its moons through telescopes at the Davey Laboratory rooftop observatory. "Watching people look at these amazing sights is one of the most rewarding things about being an astronomer," said Jane Charlton, a professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the founding organizer of AstroFest. "Visitors also find it amazing seeing first-hand how many stars are out there in star clusters, and many of these stars have their own planets," she added.

Outside Davey Laboratory, visitors can walk on a simulated gooey alien planet surface lovingly called "oobleck" without getting their feet wet, and can also launch a bottle-rocket part of the way to the stars. In the lobby, visitors can view a special exhibit for the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope and learn about NASA's Swift satellite, which views the most powerful explosions in the universe and is controlled by Penn State. Visitors with an artistic side can design Astrogami postcards based on astronomical images.

Featured presentations vary from night to night, with subjects ranging from majestic galaxies, to black holes, to life in the universe, to science and religion, and especially to Pluto. "The NASA New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, so we wanted to feature the dwarf planet in our presentations this year" said Chris Palma, senior lecturer in astronomy and astrophysics and co-coordinator of AstroFest. "There will even be a debate about Pluto's status as a planet or dwarf planet," Palma said. AstroFest also includes the astronomer's version of an "American Idol" competition. In this performance, Penn State astronomers compete with each other for the audience vote by giving three-minute presentations about interesting concepts in astronomy.

AstroFest demonstrations include the cloud chamber, where visitors learn about sub-atomic particles and the chance to "make your own comet." The popular "Finding Planets" lab provides a "hands-on" exploration of how astronomers have found more than a thousand planets beyond our solar system. Five-minute tours of a scale model of the solar system also are available.

Kids may keep an AstroFest "activity passport" -- a stamped record of completed activities and visits to different demonstrations. Among the astronomy-themed prize rewards are alien glow-in-the-dark putty, light-up toys, dinosaur excavation kits, and more. At the "Astronomy Question and Answer" booth, both adults and youngsters can answer astronomy quiz questions to win astronomy posters, lithographs, and bookmarks.

"We are all so excited about the program that we are putting together for AstroFest this year," said Charlton. "We hope that we will have many new visitors, and maybe even some future astronomers. Returning visitors will also have plenty of new things to see and do, since there is always something new that we are learning about our universe!"

Find more information at www.astro.psu.edu/astrofest, "like" AstroFest on Facebook, or contact the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics (by phone at 814-865-0418 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by e-mail at planetarium@astro.psu.edu).


[ J C / S J S ]

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