AstroFest to offer four evenings of astronomy, stargazing during Arts Festival

July 05, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Now in its 20th year, Penn State’s popular AstroFest program will offer four nights of astronomy activities and stargazing during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. The program will take place from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. nightly beginning Wednesday, July 11, through Saturday, July 14. 

All ages are welcome to participate in a variety of exciting and educational activities sponsored by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Events are free and will occur rain or shine in classrooms and in the planetarium located on the fifth floor of Davey Laboratory on Penn State's University Park campus.

On clear nights, visitors will be treated to views of Saturn, with its magnificent rings, and Jupiter and its moons through telescopes at the Davey Laboratory rooftop observatory.

“This is a great year for observing the planets, which are some of the best targets for first-time telescope observers,” said Jane Charlton, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and the founding organizer of AstroFest. "Visitors also find it amazing to see much more distant star clusters that are as far as 25,000 light years away.”

Outside Davey Laboratory, visitors can walk on a simulated gooey alien planet surface lovingly called "oobleck" without getting their feet wet, and see flames dance in a device called a Rubens’ Tube. In the lobby, visitors can learn about NASA's Swift satellite observatory, which views the most powerful explosions in the universe and is controlled by Penn State. Visitors with an artistic side can design Astrogami postcards based on astronomical images.

Featured presentations vary from night to night, with subjects ranging from majestic galaxies, to black holes, to life in the universe, and to the space race.

“There have been a number of exciting developments in commercial space flight this year and last year,” said Chris Palma, teaching professor in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and co-coordinator of AstroFest. “We thought this year would be great to revisit the space race and the history of space flight.”

AstroFest also includes the astronomer's version of an "American Idol" competition. In this performance, Penn State astronomers compete with each other for the audience vote by giving three-minute presentations about interesting concepts in astronomy.

Other AstroFest demonstrations include the cloud chamber, where visitors learn about subatomic particles and the chance to "make your own comet." The popular "Finding Planets" lab provides a hands-on exploration of how astronomers have found more than a thousand planets beyond our solar system. Five-minute tours of a scale model of the solar system also are available.

Kids may keep an AstroFest "activity passport" — a stamped record of completed activities and visits to different demonstrations, which they can turn in for a prize at the end of the evening. At the "Astronomy Question and Answer" booth, both adults and youngsters can answer astronomy quiz questions to win astronomy posters, lithographs and bookmarks.

“This year is our 20th year of presenting AstroFest,” said Charlton. “We are looking forward to having first-time visitors and participants who have been coming for years.  We are as excited as we were for the very first AstroFest to share the wonders of the universe with everyone who attends.”

Find more information at, "like" AstroFest on Facebook, 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 at

  • AstroFest2018 T-shirt

    AstroFest 2018 T-shirt artwork, designed by Nahks Tr'Ehnl.

    IMAGE: Nahks Tr'Ehnl, Penn State
Last Updated July 05, 2018