AstroFest 2009 offers astronomy and stargazing activities for all ages

Penn State's popular AstroFest program during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts includes evening astronomy and stargazing activities between 8:30 and 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 8 through Saturday, July 11, on the the University Park campus. The event is the 11th annual AstroFest, sponsored by the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The four-day event, which draws about 2,000 visitors each year, is made possible by the efforts of more than 85 faculty, staff and student volunteers.

All ages are welcome to attend and to participate in a variety of activities.  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 topics, from the gravity waves produced by exotic black holes, to the science of making dazzling color images of galaxies, to a hands-on demonstration of "night vision astronomy."  In addition, AstroFest offers three-dimensional tours of Mars, the Milky Way, and the universe beyond our Galaxy.

"We've got some new features planned for this year," said Brendan Mullan, a graduate student in astronomy.  "Visitors can check out a special chamber that lights up with bright sparks as cosmic rays and other energetic particles pass through. They also may catch a rare glimpse of what astronomy research is really like in a special Astronomy Behind the Scenes exhibit."

Some of the many other popular AstroFest events for children are crafts, solar-system tours, a driver's-education class for a Mars rover, planetarium shows, and an opportunity to build a comet. Kids also are encouraged to participate in building a "passport," a stamped record of completed activities that enables them to win small astronomy-themed prizes.

If the sky is clear, visitors will have the opportunity to observe a number of astronomical objects through the telescopes on the Davey Laboratory rooftop observatory.  The planet Saturn and its rings will be visible, as will our own Moon and its rugged craters. The stargazing menu also will feature diffuse nebulae and bright clusters of thousands to millions of stars.

"Davey Laboratory is very close to where the Arts Festival is held, so it's a convenient location for people to drop by in the evening and see what's going on at AstroFest," said Jane Charlton, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics and the organizer of AstroFest.  "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."

For more information, visit the Web at or contact the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at (814) 865-0418 or by e-mail at

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Last Updated November 18, 2010