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The White House announced this weekend that President Obama will host a “Star Party” on the White House lawn Wednesday evening.

This White House event for middle-school students will “highlight the President’s commitment to science, engineering and math education as the foundation of this nation’s global technological and economic leadership,” according to a White House statement.

“The event will include 20 telescopes on the White House lawn focused on Jupiter, the Moon and select stars; interactive dome presentations; and hands-on activities including scale models of the Solar System,” the White House said.

Two NOAO astronomers, Dr. Dara Norman and Dr. Stephen Pompea, will be traveling to Washington on Tuesday, having been invited to participate in the White House Star Party. They will be showing middle-school students at the White House the same celestial objects they regularly show Arizona students, using the same NOAO outreach telescopes. NOAO Science Education Specialist Robert Sparks will also be in Washington DC conducting sidewalk astronomy star parties during the week. All of these efforts are in support of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, whose project office is hosted by NOAO.

Dr. Norman hopes that young women and underrepresented minority students around the country will realize that scientific and technological careers are attractive ones for them:

“Astronomy is a great way to motivate the study of math and science. As an astronomer, studying Active Galactic Nuclei, I not only have a job that is fulfilling, challenging and fun, but I have also been able to travel to many exotic places around the world, including having the opportunity to live and work in Chile at our southern observatory.” She added, “It is a great honor to share my interest in astronomy with students at the White House and to tell them how rewarding it is to work at the national observatory.”

Pompea is U.S. Project Director for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture that marks the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of IYA2009 is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme “The Universe, Yours to Discover”.

During the year of astronomy NOAO has created with its partners, including local optics experts, a new, high-quality telescope kit for students dubbed the Galileoscope. The Galileoscope enables kids to learn how to do science, making the same observations that Galileo made 400 years ago. Pompea is hoping that the Galileoscope becomes a part of every 5th grade classroom in Arizona.

“With Arizona’s role as an innovation center for astronomy and optics, I hope that we can get Galileoscopes in every elementary and middle school in Arizona. NOAO and its education partners across the state are ready to help train teachers on how to teach science with this great teaching tool.”

Thirty-one teachers from several southern Arizona counties were trained on Saturday at a Tucson workshop sponsored by the Air Force Association and further trainings are planned in October at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 facility.

Pompea added, “the teachers on Saturday loved the Galileoscope and felt strongly that they could use it immediately to teach not only astronomy concepts but the process of scientific inquiry. Students can make their own observations of the Moon, stars, and planets to draw their own evidence-based conclusions about our cosmos.”

The telescope sells for less than $20 but has the quality and reach of telescopes costing more than $100. The optics, designed in Tucson by optics experts Scott Ellis and Richard Pfisterer at Photon Engineering LLC, enable a student to see the rings of Saturn and Moons of Jupiter from any location in Arizona, including city centers.

Images in different formats can be found above.

NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.