Visitor Night at Observatory
Visitor Night at Observatory
UCI’s department of physics and astronomy hosted its fourth “Visitor’s Night” of the year that took place Saturday March 9th at the University’s very own observatory reeling in an estimated number of about 300 plus visitors.
Arranged by Tammy Smecker-Hane, an astronomy and physics professor at UCI, the event included a lecture by postdoctoral researcher—Dr. Evan Kirby—who discussed the highlights of the night: Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, and the Pleiades (PLAY-ah-dees) star cluster.
Professor Tammy Smecker spoke with KUCI News to discuss particulars about the free event.
“Visitor night is when we open the observatory to the general public, and invite people to come and listen to a short lecture—about half an hour long—on some hot-topic in astronomy. Usually it’s something one of the professors or post-doctoral researchers are doing research on. Then they get to stargaze with all the telescopes that we have here. “
»> Visitor Nights are rarely hosted, and inevitably quite popular. Especially when there’s a special occurrence in the night-sky.
“We host about six visitor nights a year and then we also host more informal events when there’s something going on, that’s not on a Saturday night—like meteorshowers. They can be on different days of the week. So we have informal visitor nights for those events. for meteorshowers, solar eclipses, lunar eclipses and when venus is transiting across the face of the sun, we actually had 4000 people here.”
»»>Weekends are particularly unique, and therefore an ideal time for stargazing.
“Tonight is kind of special because it’s a Saturday night, when the moon is not out. So we chose this night for visitor night, because when the moon is not out the sky is the darkest, and then you can see best the fainter objects in the night sky.”
»> Depending on the expected number of attendees, the physics department provides a set amount of telescopes each night for the use of the public.
“We have a large 24 inch telescope under the dome. Then, we usually have six to eight other portable telescopes that we set up to look at different objects, like whatever planet is visible or the moon, star clusters, planetary nebula. Sometimes even galaxies.”
»>While many visitors took advantage of the five portable telescopes that were on display, most of them gravitated towards the substantially larger telescope, encased in white dome-like hut.
“This main telescope has a mirror that is twenty-four inches across; the bigger the mirror, the better you can see the fainter objects, you can see them more magnified. So this telescope is looking at the Orion Nebula. Inside in the little sword of the constellation, Orion, theres a little thing that looks like a star when you look at it. But actually, with a telescope, you get to see that it’s actually a giant cloud of gas out of which stars are forming today. So deep down in the cloud, there are bright mass of stars that are lighting the cloud up from the inside. “
»> The observatory is a unique spot, that not enough students take advantage of. But the isolated location, Tammy discusses, is outstanding for its purposes.
“We have kind of a nice location. It’s one of the darkest places you can have in Irvine, because we’ve got blank fields around us. So the darker the sky is, the fainter the objects you can see.”
»»While a growing number of visitors waited in line for the big telescope, Tammy utilized her own iPad to teach students about the night-sky.
“So we have an app called “Go-Sky-Watch.” It’s a free app, and when you point it at any direction in the sky, it shows you what you’re looking at in the night sky and it’ll show you a picture of what’s there, it’ll show you the constellation, it’ll tell you—it’ll pop up a little picture, like a star cluster. It’ll tell you what the distance is, and what its name is.”
»> While the event is free, the physics program encourages donations. Tammy estimated an approximate $2,000 dollars invested in funding the night. This includes charter buses that transport visitors, small monies for the students presenting at each telescope’s station, as well as porta potties and other facilities for the visitors. Because the events are dependent on the Dean’s approval for funds, Tammy claims that donations are a key in demonstrating the importance of the event.
“We like to show the Dean that so many people appreciate what’s going on.”
»> This was only the fourth of seven “Visitor Nights” for the school year. Anticipated construction of housing in the near future suggests that the observatory may be moving to a new location. Tammy says that the department is currently seeking new funds and a new place, not far from the current location.
Tammy gave KUCI News the “OK” to help spread the word, and hopefully encourage more students to take advantage of the observatory’s free events.
“You can go to our website— just GOOGLE “UCI Observatory—and you’ll go to our website, and you can read down there where you can e-mail us and sign up to receive e-mails notices.”
The next visitor’s night will take place on Sunday, April 21st for the viewing of the Lyrid Meteorshower. Noted as one of the more popular stargazing events, expected numbers vary within 800-1000 visitors throughout the night.