March 18, 2009

Stargazers to offer high-powered view of moon, stars

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Three nights of telescopic star and planet viewing are planned, from 7 to 9 p.m. April 2-5, in the parking lot between Campbell Hall and Bartow Arena, weather permitting.

A Christmas gift to a 9-year-old turned into a life passion for Douglas White. White, a researcher in the Department of Physics, remembers getting his first telescope as though it happened yesterday.

Douglas White (left) and Perry Gerakines show one of the telescopes that will be used during the “100 Hours of Astronomy” event the Department of Physics is hosting April 2-5.
“It was a cheap telescope,” he says, “but that’s where it started. I’ve been interested in astronomy since I was knee high.”

You can share White’s view of the stars. Four nights of telescopic star and planet viewing are planned, from 7 to 9 p.m. April 2-5, in the parking lot between Campbell Hall and Bartow Arena, weather permitting.

Two high-powered telescopes will be available for stargazers to view spectacular, up-close images of the moon, Saturn and its moons, the constellations Ursa Major, the Orion Nebula and other heavenly bodies. Participants are invited to bring their own telescopes.

“I look at this as an opportunity to make people aware of how science works,” White says of the “100 Hours of Astronomy” event. “If you can get children interested in it, that’s really where it all starts; that’s where it started with me. If you can show them to not be afraid of science and the cool aspects of it, they soon see it’s attractive and fun.”

White wanted to host the event as part of the Interna-tional Year of Astronomy, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Galileo using the telescope to observe Jupiter, the sun and Venus. Galileo published his first discoveries in 1609. Celestial viewing sessions like this one are part of global events related to the International Year of Astronomy. More information is available at astronomy2009.us.

“If you can just get people to look up for a while and notice things there that are interesting to investigate, that’s where the beginning of all science comes from,” says Perry Gerakines, Ph.D., professor of physics. “If they follow their curiosity, they’ll learn a lot. That’s how the ancients did it, and they figured out more than most people think.”

Supporting space projects
The Department of Physics offers two astronomy courses each semester. White, who ran the observatory at North Georgia College while completing his undergraduate degree, has taught these labs in the past.

Part of the lab work is observing planets and stars, and White says it’s common for students not enrolled in the course to drop by to take a look beyond the sky.

“That’s the fun part of the lab, actually,” White says. “Other students come through quite often to look. That’s how the interest begins.” The physics department also provides support to current space projects. Associate Professor Emeritus Thomas Wdowiak, Ph.D., continues to work with the Mars Rover team five years into the project, and Professor Emeritus David Agresti, Ph.D., investigates the iron mineral properties of lunar and Martian soils using Moessbauer Spectroscopy.

“We do quite a bit of research work here in our astrophysics lab,” Gerakines says.

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