January 1, 2014 11:53 am

Space Shuttle + Aircraft Carrier + Astronomers = ?

Guests inside the Intrepid Sea, AIr and Space Museum's Space Shuttle Pavilion with the Enterprise orbiter.

Guests inside the Space Shuttle Pavilion with the Enterprise orbiter. Credit: Megan Bednarz

Today’s guest blog post is from StarTalk Volunteer Megan Bednarz, who works at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex as an educator and part of their Community Engagement Team. 

What do you get when you mix the Enterprise orbiter, the flight deck of the USS Intrepid, a Space Shuttle Pavilion full of astronomy enthusiasts and… oh yes, complimentary champagne? What you get, my friends, is called Astronomy on Deck, the latest installment to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s arsenal of educational offerings. Here at the Intrepid, the Community Engagement Team (that I am very proudly a part of) already knew that our Space Shuttle Pavilion was the ultimate venue for science & technology talks. But now the rest of NYC knows too!

To make Astronomy on Deck possible we partnered with the organizers of Astronomy on Tap, an ongoing series that has astronomers taking over a bar with music, projectors, white boards, 10-minute talks, Q&A’s about cutting edge research and of course, glow sticks to serve as prizes for the brave souls asking questions. The group was founded by Meg Schwamb while she was a postdoc at Yale. She is now an Academia Sinica Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.

On Wednesday December 18th 2013, exactly three hundred minds gathered at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for an evening of talks, games and cheers geared towards a 21+ audience. Astronomy on Tap’s fearless leader Emily Rice, an Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island/CUNY and a resident research associate at AMNH, brought a wonderful army of volunteer astronomers with her aboard the USS Intrepid. For the night we referred to her fondly as MC DJ Carly Sagan, and her entourage included NYC based grad students and post docs as well as educators and researchers from Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and CUNY. Volunteer astronomers were identified with bobbling and glittering antennae while the Intrepid’s Museum Educators were identified by large foam glow sticks.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was there in spirit as his office’s “trash” was recycled and given out as prizes. We’re talking books, t-shirts, tote bags, CD’s, mugs, lapel pins, toys, and probably the most interesting – a stuffed Fraggle key chain. To earn prizes, guests categorized images as observation, simulation or imagination, played in ASTRO Bingo during talks or ventured around on a scavenger hunt through the Space Shuttle Pavilion.

Nicole Vartanian, our Education Department’s VP, graciously welcomed our guests to the event from our Education Zone stage. Tom Barry, the Community Engagement Team manager, kicked off the night with his talk, Enterprise 101, overviewing the missions of the prototype orbiter. There really is no better time to get schooled on the Enterprise than when you find yourself standing directly below it. Who needs a PowerPoint slide when you can just point to the thing? Alex Attanasio, Intrepid Museum Educator, whose talk was mysteriously titled The Space Shuttle & The Horse, shared humorous anecdotes surrounding some of the most historically significant moments in NASA… and was able to relate the width of solid rocket boosters to, forgive me, the width of a horse’s ass. Following these talks from our museum educators, it was on to the astronomers!

IAlex Attanasio (Intrepid Museum): The Space Shuttle & The Horse.

Alex Attanasio (Intrepid Museum): The Space Shuttle & The Horse. Credit: Megan Bednarz

Jeff Oishi (AMNH) used spectrograms and oscilloscopes to demonstrate how sound waves behave, live. He then described how he uses sound waves to study the interior of the Sun. Yes, the massive flaming ball of hydrogen and helium located 92,900,000 miles away from us. That. He uses sounds waves to study THAT.

Steph LaMassa (Yale University) gave us the rundown on the life and death of stars beginning with their picturesque formation and concluding with the elegant expulsion of the outer layers of a dying low-mass star and the energetic explosion of much more massive stars in supernovas, leaving behind neutron stars or even black holes. ‘Tis a tragically beautiful cycle, indeed.

Josh Peek (Columbia University) told us about the dirtiest parts of the universe. Ya know, the solid particles of heavy elements that exist between stars and smell like car exhaust. He explained that all this “dust” is important for forming molecules like hydrogen in interstellar space, which eventually leads to star formation. For almost a week now, my Dad and I have been pondering some ideas from Josh’s talk. Josh showed that the elements, or materials, that WE know are just a tiny sliver of what the universe is made up of. This dark heavy “dust” stuff dominates. This still bothers my Dad and me. Josh then succinctly pointed out that the universe is much more massive than it is old and this is ALSO still bothering my Dad and me.

Jackie Faherty (Carnegie Institute/AMNH): Hubble’s Greatest Hits Credit: Megan Bednarz

Jackie Faherty (Carnegie Institute/AMNH): Hubble’s Greatest Hits Credit: Megan Bednarz

Jackie Faherty (Carnegie Institute/AMNH) closed the show with her talk, Hubble’s Greatest Hits. She passionately proclaimed the importance of the telescope, the beauty it has captured, and the discoveries it has allowed astronomers and observers to make. At times, she spoke with a hint of anger. But we knew the anger really came out of love. After showing her favorite Hubble image ever, she directly addressed the crowd yelling “IF THAT DOESN’T BLOW YOUR MIND, I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.” Frankly, I’d have to agree with her.

If Astronomy on Deck doesn’t blow your mind, I just don’t know what will! The idea is to bring professionals, amateurs, and enthusiasts together into the perfect mix of education and inanity. Science is great fun and scientists are very accessible. The trick is to lose the stuffy lecture hall and endlessly dense academic journals!

StarTalk Radio Cosmic Community member Jupiter Joe was there! Credit: Megan Bednarz

StarTalk Radio Cosmic Community member Jupiter Joe was there! Credit: Megan Bednarz

Intrepid’s Community Engagement Team is already hard at work planning their 2014 calendar of events so keep an eye out for the next Astronomy on Deck and for our family friendly Astronomy Nights focused on observing with telescopes from Pier 86 (frequently operated by members of the StarTalk Radio Cosmic Community, like Jupiter Joe, pictured above). In the meantime, do catch Astronomy on Tap approximately once a month in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Or you can try inviting them to a bar near you!

Here are a few links to find out more:

Twitter & Instagram: @Intrepidmuseum, @Astronomyontap

Keep track of the education events at the Intrepid: http://www.intrepidmuseum.org/Education.aspx

Connect to Intrepid on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IntrepidMuseum


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