Clear skies and startling sights

Colors from the setting sun bleed off the sky until pitch darkness takes its throne and a rising half moon marks the hour for the star party to begin.  

Chair of the Physics and Planetary Department Dale Fields, arrives on scene with a few volunteers, opening doors, hefting two telescopes out onto the second floor of the Center for Sciences. Together they position the telescopes to capture an in-depth sight at the moon and locate the red planet, Mars.

On Sept. 8, the Astronomy department hosted its “Viewing Night” on the CFS second floor from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Students, faculty and members of the community were welcomed to use equipment to view the Moon, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.  

“I don’t think a lot of people get involved in things that are upcoming but I’m surprised there’s people,” business major Tyroo West said.  “Especially children, it tells me the community is here.”

The crisp night air was not enough to keep children and families away from the event.  Those in attendance were captivated by sights before them taking turns looking through the telescopes.  

“I am a scientist and I’m always asking questions as to why,” Fields said.  “All children are natural scientists asking why, why, why. I really like to see little kids because they’ll keep asking and see where they are going to join us as future scientists.”

Bodies wanting a peek of the wonders of the Solar System trickled in as the event continued.  Attendees were asking questions to volunteers and Fields about the equipment, planets, and sharing stories of their own stargazing experiences.

“[My favorite part is] Being able to see the moon so close because I’ve only seen pictures and never seen it in real life with my own eyes,” first year student Bilyana Borisova said.  “That was really amazing being able to see all the details.”

Fields was a comet himself moving back and forth across the second floor answering as many questions as he could before going on to another group of curious stargazers.

“This is sort of what defines awe,” Fields said. “ Awe is staring at something that is greater than you.  That it is beyond your can.  That is one of the great things about astronomy that there is awe all over the place.”

According to Ryan Kellis, a volunteer and student, the Viewing Night always gets a great turn out. He said people here are really curious and genuine. That there’s this sense of awe that breaks people’s walls.

“This has made me realize that the problems we are facing right now, within our lives, like our social life, does not really matter because there is such a great world out there,” Borisova said.  “Our universe is just amazing.”

The next Viewing Night will be on December 5 for those interested in participating in the star party.

“Part of this is to see that there is wonder around you,” Fields said.  “At the same time that there’s a whole bunch of really amazing things available to everyone free of charge.”