If this scenario seems all too familiar, then the Pinhead Institute’s first Stargazing Series gathering, “An Introduction to the Night’s Sky,” is for you. Pinhead is bringing astronomer Christopher Crockett, a UCLA graduate student conducting research at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, to the Peaks Hotel and Spa on Monday, July 18. His presentation begins at 7:30 p.m., followed by stargazing at 8:45 p.m. Although, there is no official ticket fee, Pinhead’s suggested donation for the event is $20, and there will be a cash bar.
A Smithsonian Affiliate, The Pinhead Institute’s local programs are known for their ability to make science fun and accessible to anyone. Pinhead strives to generate interest, curiosity and literacy in the sciences through participatory activities with scientists. They like to make science real and show that scientists are real people—and cool. Like the field in which they work, they are willing to be experimental in their approach.
“People have a child[like] fascination with space,” said Pinhead Program Director Amy Laubenstein. “It’s a neat area of science to delve a little deeper; it’s way out there stuff. We’re hoping people are excited about the Stargazing Series and we want to see what the interest is.”
Laubenstein believes with the last space shuttle mission occurring earlier this month, there is a lot of interest in the subject. And within the organization, the interest has grown, largely due to the addition of boardmember, Joe Tanner. Tanner is a retired astronaut whose 24-year career with NASA includes logging over 1,000 hours in space, four space shuttle flights and seven space walks. Currently he is teaching aerospace engineering at CU Boulder and is Laubenstein’s part-time neighbor on Horsefly Mesa.
Melding Tanner’s influence and the Pinhead mission, the Stargazing Series was born. Crockett’s presentation on Monday night kicks it off, followed by two more, Aug. 1 and 8, each with a different focus and guest scientist. Astronomer Simon Porter’s Aug. 1 presentation is titled “What is a Planet?”and Dr. Nathaniel White will discuss more intricacies of stars on Aug. 8.
Each presentation takes place at The Peaks, and is followed by organized stargazing. Laubenstein said they scheduled the series around the phases of the moon – during the smaller phases, the moon casts less light so the stars are easier to see.
The aim Crockett’s talk is to give people an underlying foundation for which to understand the night sky.
“The primary goal is to give people some basic tools to sort of understand what they are looking at, so they can understand the context of where we fit into the galaxy and universe,” Crockett explained in a phone interview. “I’ll introduce people to the night sky, the history of the constellations and how they’ve changed over the centuries.”
In Pinhead’s biography of Crockett, they noted that in addition to being a scientist, he is a thespian. “It’s not a boring lecture,” he ensured. “I came to Telluride a couple of years ago and had a very audience-participation driven presentation. Participants may be called up to be the sun or earth or a constellation.”
After the presentation, Crockett will lead participants in a stargazing session outside the Peaks on their Wilson Deck.
“I’ll be bringing the telescope out, not just to look at constellations, but to look at planets like Saturn or the Great Hercules star cluster,” Crockett said. “If you have never had the opportunity to talk to an astronomer, if people have burning questions about the universe, this is there chance.”
Or, if you just want to confidently point out the Big Dipper to your children (or that girl you’ve been trying to impress), and that its ladle points to the North Star, which is the first star on the handle of the Little Dipper, this is also your chance.