AstroFest 2010: An evening of astronomy and stargazing

Penn State's popular "AstroFest" program, a four-night festival of astronomy and stargazing activities during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, will be held this year from Wednesday, July 7, through Saturday, July 10. The even will take place from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. each day. All ages are welcome to participate in a variety of exciting and educational activities sponsored by the Department of Astrophysics. Events are free and will be conducted rain or shine in classrooms and in the planetarium located on the fifth floor of Davey Laboratory.

Presentations each night will explore a wide range of exciting topics, from exotic black holesĀ  to why galaxies have such dazzling colors. In addition, AstroFest will offer three-dimensional tours of Mars, the Milky Way, and the universe beyond our galaxy. If the sky is clear, visitors will have the opportunity to observe astronomical objects through the telescopes on the Davey Laboratory rooftop observatory. The planets Mars and Venus will be in an ideal position in the sky, and Saturn and its moons and dazzling rings also will be visible. In addition, the stargazing menu will feature star clusters, gas clouds from dying stars, and bright clusters of thousands to millions of stars.

Among the newest AstroFest features is a special scientific tool called a cloud chamber.

"Visitors can watch the chamber light up with particles that make trails through a visible mist," said Brendan Mullan, a graduate student in astronomy helping to plan the event. AstroFest organizers also are planning a special "Astronomy Behind the Scenes" exhibit to show visitors what it is like to be an astronomer working to make discoveries in a research lab.

Some of the many other popular AstroFest events for children are crafts, a "driver's ed" class for those who dream of operating a Mars rover, and planetarium shows. In addition, kids will have the opportunity to build their own comets using mostly household products (water, dirt, ammonia, dry ice and a few other ingredients) to construct a "dirty snowball" that approximates what real comets are like. Kids also may keep an AstroFest activity "passport" -- a stamped record of completed activities and visits to different booths. Those who accumulate enough stamps in a passport will win astronomy-themed prizes.

"Davey Laboratory is very close to where the Arts Festival is held, so it's a convenient location for people to drop by and see what's going on at the 12th annual AstroFest," said Jane Charlton, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and the founding organizer of AstroFest -- an event that draws about 2,000 visitors each year. "There will be plenty to do inside in case the weather doesn't cooperate, but we are hoping for clear skies and another record-setting attendance for this year's events."

Find more information at http://www.astro.psu.edu/astrofest 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.

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Last Updated July 01, 2010