Many graduate students and faculty in the AST program participate in astronomy outreach in Rochester, NY. They have devoted much of their free time to educating the public by teaching classes at local K-12 schools, giving lectures at senior living communities and amateur astronomy clubs, volunteering at observatory open houses, and running an exhibit at Imagine RIT. Many people in the Rochester area are very interested in astronomy, but have never had the chance to learn much about it. RIT’s outreach endeavors allow the public to observe the stars first hand, and learn about the fascinating research that students and faculty at RIT are producing. Below you'll find information on ongoing and recent outreach activities.
The RIT observatory holds quarterly open houses where the public can visit the site after dark and peer through the large telescopes and learn about outer space. The observatory houses two computerized telescopes (14in Celestron and 12in Meade) that are used for scientific research, astronomy classes, and public education as well as cement pads where members of the public can bring their own telescope. During an open house, students and faculty point telescopes at the moon and any visible planets, as well as star clusters and planetary nebulae. Members of the public also get a tour of the constellations in the night sky, and learn about all of the celestial objects you can observe just with a pair of binoculars,
Students from K-12 schools also visit the RIT observatory for class field trips. Recently, 2nd and 3rd graders from the Genesee Community Charter School visited the RIT observatory during the day to learn about telescopes and our solar system. Graduate students and faculty taught the students about the different kinds of telescopes, and even let the students safely look at the sun through a 10in Meade.
The largest outreach event at the observatory was the transit of Venus in June of 2012. Hundreds of people showed up to watch Venus cross in front of the sun that afternoon. Some members of the public set up their own telescopes on the cement pads, while others watched through solar glasses, binoculars, and the two telescopes at the observatory.
The Imagine RIT Innovation and Creativity Festival is an annual free event held each year on the campus of the RIT. The purpose of the festival is to showcase the work and research conducted by students and faculty at RIT, and get the public excited about science and technology. Since 2011, graduate students, post-docs and faculty in the Astrophysical Sciences and Technology graduate program at RIT have participated in the festival by showcasing their astronomy research in a fun, interactive and hands on way. The students have presented work conducted with various telescopes in the fields of star formation and galaxy evolution using posters, video simulations, and activities such as astro-trivia and building miniature models of the Hubble Space Telescope. The most popular portion of the exhibit has always been solar viewing. Members of the public really enjoy looking at the sun, many of which are seeing it through a telescope for the first time. This event brings tens of thousands of people to campus, and allows the students and faculty at RIT to promote current astronomy research to the public.
Teaching in local schools
Many of the AST faculty and students guest lecture in K-12 schools, as well as teach summer programs for high school students. AST graduate students have visited Kindergarten classes at the Harley school and Webster school district, where they taught the students about the solar system and why Pluto is now a dwarf planet. Students have also visited high school classes in the Pittsford school district, where they spoke about the size of the universe, and also participated in the Victor school district’s Science Saturday event where they taught students about the electromagnetic spectrum. Recently, students visited Genesee Valley BOCES and taught learning disabled children about outer space using the planetarium programs Stellarium and Celestia.
Some AST graduate students also teach a summer class for high school students as part of the University of Rochester’s Rochester Scholars program. These college prep courses are intended to give high school students from across the country experience in a subject that they may not have the chance to take at their local high school. AST students have taught classes in basic astronomy, astrogeology, and CCD detectors, which have been well attended.
Speaking at Senior living communities
Many senior living communities in the Rochester area are promoting “life long learning”, an initiative in which the residents of the community can participate in lectures and activities on various topics that they may not have had a chance to learn much about throughout their lives. Students in the AST department have volunteered to give lectures about various topics in astronomy at Rivers Run, Highlands, Cherry Ridge, and Legacy senior living communities. The seniors enjoy the lessons very much, and are always excited to hear about the latest research that astronomers are conducting, especially when it has something to do with Mars or aliens! AST students have also done sidewalk astronomy at these senior living communities where they set up telescopes on the sidewalk and teach seniors about the different objects that can be viewed from their location.
RIT AST graduate student Valerie Rapson published an article titled “Reaching for the Stars in your Golden Years: The Importance of Outreach for Senior Citizens”. Please visit our News webpage for a link to the article.
Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science:
The Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS) is the amateur astronomy club in Rochester, NY. With over 200 members, the club is filled with people who have a passion for outer space and always want to learn more about observing and astronomy research. Many AST faculty and students have volunteered to give lectures at club meetings or have participated in their annual RocheStar festival, which celebrates astronomy in Rochester, NY. Some AST students are official club members, and have even served on the board of directors. They participate in ASRAS outreach events as well, which include helping boy and girl scouts earn astronomy badges, running a science summer camp a the Marian and Max Farash Center for Observational Astronomy, and running the public telescope atop the Rochester Museum and Science Center Stransenburgh Planetarium.
Links to other related events:
Astrodance - AstroDance tells the story of the search for Gravitational Waves. Predicted in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, Gravitational Waves are "ripples in space-time" caused by the rapid motion of massive objects, such as black hole binaries and supernova explosions. AstroDance combines dance, multi-media, sound and computer simulations to engage us in the understanding of science through artistic expression. With astrodance, the general public is invited to discuss cutting-edge scientific questions with the scientists participating in the project.
Astrobus - funded, information forthcoming