AstroFest to offer four evenings of astronomy activities during Arts Festival

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State will be holding its annual AstroFest program from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. each night from Wednesday, July 12, through Saturday, July 15, during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. All ages are encouraged to participate in the festivities. The events are free and will take place on the fifth floor of Davey Lab on the University Park campus. All activities will occur rain or shine, except the rooftop observing, which will be weather permitting.

On clear nights, several telescopes will be open on the roof of Davey Lab for viewing stars and planets, including Saturn and Jupiter. "The rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter are so vivid, people often ask if we have painted them on the end of the telescope," said Jane Charlton, a professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the founding organizer of AstroFest. "It is so rewarding to see the looks on people's faces when they first see their favorite planets in such amazing detail."

When they arrive, visitors will be greeted with several activities taking place in front of Davey Lab where they can launch bottle rockets, walk across a simulated gooey alien planet surface (called "oobleck"), and watch sound waves converted to fire and electricity in a Ruben's Tube and a Tesla Coil.

In the lobby of Davey Lab, visitors can watch as subatomic particles and other cosmic rays pass through a cloud chamber, leaving a streak of air to mark their passage. The lobby is also where kids can pick up their AstroFest Activity Passport. After receiving stamps on their passports for the activities they attend, kids can collect science-themed prizes, such as glow-in-the-dark putty, light-up toys, and dinosaur excavation kits.

Up the elevators, visitors will find the majority of the activities for AstroFest, including stations to "make your own comet," answer quiz questions to win astronomy posters and bookmarks at the "Astronomy Question and Answer" booth, and, for those with an artistic side, design Astrogami postcards based on actual astronomical images. The popular "Finding Planets" lab provides a hands-on exploration of how astronomers look for planets beyond our solar system. The current exoplanet count is above a thousand! Five-minute tours of a scale model of the solar system or of the evolution of the Universe are also available.

Featured presentations will also take place throughout the night. Topics will vary over the course of the week, and range from the upcoming solar eclipse, to detection of gravitational waves from LIGO, to dark energy. "Solar eclipses have captured the imagination of humans for millennia. All of us here are thrilled to be having AstroFest this year right before an eclipse of our own," said Chris Palma, senior lecturer in astronomy and astrophysics and co-coordinator of AstroFest.

"We are so excited about the program that we are putting together for AstroFest this year," said Charlton. "We hope that we will have many new visitors, and maybe even some future astronomers. Returning visitors will also have plenty of new things to see and do, since astronomers are always learning about new and exciting aspects of our universe."

For more information, visit the AstroFest webpage, follow us on Facebook @PennStateAstronomy, 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 email).

Last Updated July 10, 2017