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!
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!