Astrofest 2014

Earlier this month (July 9 – July 12) was Penn State’s 16th Astrofest, a four night festival of Astronomy and Astrophysics were Penn State Astronomy students, faculty, and friends gave talks, presentations, planetarium shows, and various other hands-on activities and demonstrations. During the after-dark hours visitors could gaze through the optical telescopes on the roof of Penn State’s Davey lab: Saturn and its rings, Mars, the craters on the Moon and the double star Albireo were all visible through the optical telescopes, and Cassiopeia A was shown through a custom built radio telescope. It was estimated that over 2000 visitors of all ages attended the festival and tried some of the hands-on activities and demonstrations ranging from Star Trek plays and edible & inedible comet making, to Astro-tie-dying and Astronomy Idol competitions where black holes became cosmic jelly doughnuts!

Rooftop observing - Visitors looking at the double star Albireo through one of the telescopes on top of Davey Lab.

Rooftop observing: Visitors line up to look at the double star Albireo through one of the telescopes on top of Davey Lab.

Below follows a short video of some of the activities:

The HPF group was a strong presence in the festival, where members of the group  supervised a whole room of planet-finding demonstrations. Visitors were directed through a set of stations dedicated to explaining an aspect of modern planet finding methods and technology: singing tennis-balls suspended on a string explained the Doppler effect; a Lego-model of a planetary system with a live light-curve feed explained how transits can be used to find planets; atomic emission lamps with diffraction gratings demonstrated absorption and emission features in spectra of different elements; and observing the absorption spectrum of ground leaves demonstrated what spectral signatures of life on other worlds might look like. Lastly, a simplified setup of the HPF instrument was displayed to explain the main technology behind a modern planet-finding instrument. Again, the intriguing IR camera/detector proved to be the most crowd pleasing part of the setup!

HPF group members and other Astrofest volunteers explain modern planet finding methods where the holy grail is to find habitable planets suitable for life.

Finding planets: HPF group members and other Astrofest volunteers explain modern planet finding methods, where the holy grail is to find habitable planets suitable for life. Here: The human body glows in the infrared and so do cool M-stars!

Astrofest volunteers show how to make comets.

Comet making: Astrofest volunteers show how to make comets using common materials.

 

Volunteers on the roof: A picture of some of the volunteers - only a fraction though, as more than 100 people helped out this year!

Volunteers on the roof: A picture of some of the volunteers – only a fraction though, as more than 100 people helped out this year!

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