2018-02-13 / Local News

Juniata College hosts stargazing event

By MICHAEL KANE
Daily News Staff Writer


Juniata College physics instructor Alison Earnhart prepared the observatory telescope ahead of a stargazing event to be held from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14. 
Photo by MICHAEL KANE Juniata College physics instructor Alison Earnhart prepared the observatory telescope ahead of a stargazing event to be held from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14. Photo by MICHAEL KANE Those traveling through Huntingdon Wednesday night may notice a red glow in the sky behind Brumbaugh Academic Center at Juniata College, but it’s for stargazing rather than Valentine’s Day.

The Juniata College Physics Department will host a stargazing event from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, as part of the Observatory Night series Wednesday nights throughout the semester at the Paul E. Hickes Observatory.

The event is lead by physics instructor Alison Earnhart, who is also an alumna of Juniata College.

“At 7 p.m., when it starts, I usually do a tour of the constellations that are available for seeing. I usually do a little bit of Greek Mythology about the stories behind the constellations and then we’ll open up the big telescope. We’ll be looking at whatever is up currently in the sky. We’ll probably see some star clusters and binary systems as well as planets,” said Earnhart. “We open up the telescope and people can take turns checking stuff out. We’ll turn it to look at different things throughout the evening and I usually do one more star gazing session as a tour through the constellations about a half an hour before close.”

Earnhart will educate the casual star gazer on the finer points of the night sky, including the colors of the stars and clusters.

“Something most people don’t realize until you look through a powerful telescope is how colorful the night sky actually is. Most of the stars just appear kind of white-ish to us but stars come in many different colors,” she said. “When you’re looking at them through a strong telescope you actually pick up on the orange stars, the red stars, and the blue stars, and that’s really interesting.”

On an average observatory night, stargazers will look through the high-powered telescope and see the far reaches of the galaxy and take a glimpse of neighboring galaxies.

“The furthest thing we ever look at is the Andromeda Galaxy when it’s up. All of the stars that we see with the naked eye or a telescope, those are all stars contained within our own Milky Way Galaxy, and so the Andromeda Galaxy is actually a whole other galaxy that is our closest neighboring galaxy,” said Earnhart. “With the naked eye, you can kind of point it out as a hazy smudge in the sky, but through telescope you can actually see the galaxy and the collection of stars, so that’s like a whole other world out there.”

Planets are a major attraction during observatory nights.

“We might be able to see Uranus or Neptune, which people get excited when you say you’re going to see a planet. They are very beautiful in their color, but even with our high-powered telescope they are really far away because they’re at the back edge of our solar system. We’ll see a nice blue-colored dot, but that’s about it,” she said. “They don’t have any rings or really large moons that are really visible. Saturn and Jupiter won’t be up until the morning.”

Star clusters are also among the attractions for stargazers.

“The Pleiades will be up, it is an open cluster and most people recognize them because they are in the constellation Taurus and they’re very blue when you look at them through the telescope,” said Earnhart. “They are blue stars, and very young stars that have just been formed. They are blue with heat, because blue is actually the hottest color. Whenever you see blue stars, you know that they are very young and new and extremely hot. The Orion Nebula will be up and the Andromeda Galaxy will be also.

“Globular clusters are dense clusters of millions of stars all at once so they’re pretty amazing to look at. Open clusters like the Pleiades are usually dozens of stars but you get to see each one of them more individually,” she added.

The reason the area is adorned with red light during the event is due to red’s power on the visible spectrum.

“Of the color spectrum, the rainbow, red is the weakest color of light in the spectrum. It carries the least amount of energy. Anyone who has ever been stargazing knows that the moment somebody’s car headlights or someone’s back porch light comes on it kind of dazzles your eyes,” she said. “If you want to stargaze, you have to get your night vision and let your irises open and you don’t want to be distracted by other forms of light.”

Red light has the least amount of impact on night vision.

In the event of inclement weather or large amounts of clouds, the observatory night will be canceled. Cancellations will be posted on the observatory nights Twitter account @JCAstronomy, or on their web page www.juniata.edu/ academics/ departments/ physics/observatorynights. php.

Observatory nights happen Wednesdays throughout the semester including March 7, 14, April 11, and May 9. Times may be found at the observatory web page.

Michael can be reached at mkane@huntingdondailynews.com.

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