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Skywatchers, get ready for Astropalooza!

Members of the public view
stars during Astropalooza on
Dec. 1, 2017, outside the
Reichardt Building.
UAF Photo by JR Ancheta

Fairbanks area residents who appreciate the night sky will have a chance to see even more beauty Friday, Nov. 9, as the Society of Physics Students hosts a free stargazing open house at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

From 6-10 p.m., viewers can hope to see celestial features such as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades (Seven Sisters), the Orion Nebula and several star clusters. Double stars, located far apart but aligned so they appear near each other, may also be visible.

Evans Callis, a UAF physics student and president of the SPS, will share his expertise with visitors. He has been involved with the event for three years and is ideally qualified to help.

“I’ve been looking through telescopes since I was 14,” he said. “There are usually two or three of us that have been doing this for quite awhile.”

Astropalooza, started by UAF physics student Riley Troyer, has been growing each year. The SPS members take pride in the event.

“I feel this event most captures the spirit of what we do,” said Callis. “It’s become our signature event for the fall semester.”

Most telescopes for this event will be the Schmidt–Cassegrain type, which are compact instruments that use mirrors and lenses. Staffed by knowledgeable physics students, the telescopes are fully computerized. Using “GoTo” technology, they can automatically swivel and point to whatever you are interested in viewing, which is a boon to short-on-time cold-weather amateur astronomers.

Savvy amateur astronomers have used similar telescopes in the southwestern United States to locate exoplanets, which are planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system.

Fairbanks stargazers will also have the opportunity to learn more about the night sky while they warm up inside the Reichardt Building. Displays will be set up, and hot cocoa and cookies will be available.

And if the weather doesn’t cooperate? The physics students will switch gears and have “Physics Demo Night,” with a mix of interactive demonstrations and other indoor presentations sure to please all audiences.

“The thing that makes me so passionate about it is when I’ll be telling someone about something, and you can see the moment it clicks for them,” Callis said. “They see the connection between what they’ve been looking at and what you’ve been saying. And their whole face lights up. Especially when you’re explaining something to kids, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I heard about this in school,’ and all the pieces fall together. And they get it.”

Parking for the event will be in the lot behind the Reichardt Building, located at 1930 Yukon Drive on the West Ridge of the UAF campus. The lights will be turned off in the lot, where the event will take place, so please be courteous and drive safely.

For more information contact Evans Callis at ehcallis@alaska.edu.