How big are the stars? What do they look like close up? Many astronomers across the centuries have sought the answers to these questions by looking through a telescope. But even with the aid of telescopes, these far away pinpricks of light remain mysterious.
The ever-expanding universe and its stars — the double star Regulus, in particular — will be brought into focus at the College of the Canyons Canyon Country campus’ spring semester Star Party in May.
The spring Star Party will take place from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Friday, May 3, in the Canyon Country campus’ Carl A. Rasmussen Amphitheater. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.
At the event, guest speaker Dr. Gerard van Belle, currently an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory, will share his findings and research on optical interferometry.
A novel approach to star gazing, optical interferometry involves the simultaneous use of small telescopes to create a single large telescope, which provides astronomers with high-resolution images of stars.
“We are very excited to hear Dr. van Belle’s findings on stellar astronomy and direct imaging,” said Ryan Theule, dean of the Canyon Country campus. “This will be a great chance to learn about the universe and a rare opportunity to do so from an expert such as Dr. van Belle, who is a dynamic speaker with an engaging presentation that is relevant to all age groups.”
While an instrument architect for the Keck Interferometer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. van Belle made the first-ever direct measure of non-spherical stellar shapes, which won him the first annual JPL Award for Outstanding Research in 2001.
After van Belle’s presentation on direct imaging of the stars, he will lead a Q&A session with the audience.
Members of the college’s Physics/Astronomy Club, The Local Group Astronomy Club of Santa Clarita and the Burbank Astronomy Group will also set up telescopes aimed at any celestial bodies that are visible, which attendees can view.
In relation to Dr. van Belle’s presentation, COC astronomy professor Teresa Ciardi will lead a demonstration with the aid of star models, which children in the audience can take home.
“I will also be setting up two hands-on science tables where K-12 students and their families can play and discover some physical properties that we utilize in astronomy,” said Ciardi.
Though some seating will be provided, Star Party attendees are encouraged to get to campus early with blankets, lawn chairs and picnic baskets, to enjoy a festive outdoor atmosphere as the sun begins to set and the night sky emerges.
Food and beverages will also be available for purchase at the event through the Canyons Café on the Canyon Country campus. A portion of the concession sales from the Star Party are being donated to the Dr. Ram Manvi Memorial Scholarship to benefit students who are majoring in the fields of mathematics, science or engineering technology.
Dr. Manvi was the former Dean of Math, Science and Engineering at College of the Canyons and was instrumental in launching the campus’ initial Star Party event in 2009.