When it comes to community involvement and making impressions on young minds, it’s tough to beat the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario.
For many years, the astronomy faculty and students, supported by volunteers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada‘s London Centre, have offered public lectures and viewings of the stars at the campus’s Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory. The facility is open on clear Saturday nights during May, June, July and August for lecture presentations and stargazing, but it opens its doors on special occasions through the rest of the year as well.
Yesterday’s cool and clear evening provided a great chance to study nearby planets. The observatory’s refractor telescope, as well as three other reflector telescopes, were trained on Saturn and Venus. I’d guess about 100 people were there at various points through the evening (8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.). Roughly half of those took in a 45-minute-long lecture on meteors and meteorites by astronomy professor Margaret Campbell-Brown at about 8:45 p.m. RASC London Centre volunteer Bob Duff and Western astro prof Peter G. Brown helped manage the public viewings.
The age range of participants last night was impressive — from little ones sitting on parents’ shoulders to people in their 60s. One rather precocious junior astronomer, who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, asked the majority of questions (and informed ones, too) during the Q&A following Campbell-Brown’s talk.
Through the school year, the UWO department runs a community outreach program called “Exploring the Stars,” geared to a wide range of age and interest groups. See the website for additional information. Later this summer, the university will hold two open houses at its Elginfield Observatory, home of its research telescope, as well.