Expo gives attendees a glimpse of the universe

Students, staff and visitors all had a glimpse of the universe Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Science Imaging and Astronomy (SIA) Exposition at Pierce College, examining the sun, stars and learning about the composition of our world.

The event had many camera and telescope companies attending to tout their products, alongside many clubs and organizations dedicated to science, imaging and astronomy. Speakers from various positions and backgrounds also gave lectures and set up presentations, while the planetarium had four different shows at various times throughout the day.

Local food trucks were also present with special deals to feed those at the event. Fred Nasim, co-owner of the Valentino’s Pizza that has been serving Pierce for the past 25 years, set up shop and gave the first 400 students and guests with tickets free pizza.

The stand ran out of nearly 200 slices of pizza in less than 15 minutes after opening, according to Nasim. More pizza was delivered from their shop in short order, and subsequently served to the crowd at the expo.

Stephen Ramsden, founder of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project, was one of the speakers at the event who specializes in solar astronomy and imaging. The project was named after and dedicated to a close friend of his who committed suicide.

“Let’s get people excited about science,” Ramsden said. “The kids in your communities need this.”

Ramsden’s presentation gave a general overview of the solar astronomy, the Charlie Bates project, and the importance of teaching science. He urged those present to not only teach kids what they know, but those who may not have been blessed with a thorough science education.

“I’ve dedicated my life and half my income to it,” Ramsden said. “Learn it, share it.”

Alongside the solar astronomers were the traditional astronomers who observe the night sky. Seth Shostak, who has a doctorate of astronomy and a physics degree, is a senior astronomer for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and gave a lecture on the search for life in space.

There are at least 1022 stars in the visible universe, most of which have planets, according to Shostak. There are also around one trillion planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, according to Shostak.

“Maybe one of 100 planets is habitable,” Shostak said, emphasizing how far humans or similar cellular life could be flourishing if it exists.

The SETI Institute, formed in 1984, aims to explore and understand the “origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe,” according to its website. NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and many others have sponsored the SETI Institute in their research.

“SETI more or less doubles in speed every two years,” Shostak said.

The institute is closely tied with the advance of technology, meaning their ability to perform research and reach further only grows with time.

Shostak stresses that the search for life isn’t necessarily for intelligent life – even cellular life would be a massive discovery for the SETI institute and scientists across the world.

Dr. Travis Orloff, who has a doctorate of planetary science and teaches at Pierce, lectured on his own focus: Mars, it’s geological formations, and the many experiments and objects sent to the planet.

“Spacecrafts sent to Mars give us unprecedented access to another planetary body,” Orloff said. “The surface of mars is in many ways quite similar to earth.”

Orloff’s lecture covered the planet, its details, and it’s history clearly; from sand dunes and dust devils to the Curiosity rover currently performing experiments and taking photos on the surface.

The raffle that was held at the event — with proceeds donated towards Pierce College and the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project — had many prizes that totaled more than $20,000 altogether.

Winner of the raffle’s grand prize – a modern and fully equipped 10-inch Meade telescope – Carson Brucker, is an astronomy enthusiast who works with outreach programs to teach kids about science and astronomy.

“I was floored, absolutely floored,” Brucker said. “This is a great tool to take to schools, and it is a great tool to use to share what’s out there with people who don’t know what’s out there.”

The night ended with a Night Sky Party, where those present were taught how to use a night sky telescope. Participants looked at Venus, the moon, and other celestial bodies that could be found and examined.