George Philip, Hays sophomore, gazes at the nighttime sky through a large pair of binoculars. "If you look down through the 'W,' you can see the Andromeda galaxy," Philip says as he points upward into the darkness. "I love this stuff. I would be doing it even if I wasn't getting paid."
Philip is one of the student directors from Fort Hays State University's Astronomy Club. They work shifts on the observation deck of Tomanek Hall, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Originally this tradition was created for PHYS309 (astronomy) students who needed a little help with their work outside of class, but it is now open to the public. For no admission you can visit the observation deck, and directors like Philip will show you around the universe. From galaxies to nebulae, constellations to clusters, if it's visible, they can find it and show it to you.
"People like to come out here when it is warm," Philip said. "But in the cold weather everything looks much clearer." The Astronomy Club provides equipment for viewing the stars and lets visitors gaze through it.
"SGA helps us quite a bit with funding for our equipment. We really do appreciate it," said Dr. Ken Trantham, associate professor of physics. Trantham is one of the faculty members who help organize the directors' schedules for the observation deck.
"Special tours can be arranged for groups by contacting the Astronomy Club through the Fort Hays State University Physics Department, so come on up and look through a scope," he said.
To raise awareness and celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning his telescope toward the sky, the Astronomy Club will hold an open house Thursday, Jan. 29 (weather permitting). During the open house, directors will show the moon, in a waxing crescent; Venus, which Galileo used to prove the planets orbit the sun; the Orion Nebula, a very young cluster of stars still shedding its cocoon of gas; and the Andromeda galaxy, the closest spiral galaxy to earth, at a mere 2.5 million light years away. The Astronomy Club is also hosting a presentation on April 22 about Messier objects, which are celestial bodies catalogued by French astronomer Charles Messier and published in his "Catalogue of Nebulae and Star Clusters" in 1771.
The open house is also in celebration of the Year of Science 2009 (YoS09). YoS09 is a national, year-long, grassroots celebration of science shining the spotlight on "How We Know What We Know." Activities and events are led by a wide variety of scientific organizations under the umbrella of the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science -- COPUS, is a network of more than 430 universities, scientific societies, science centers, museums, government agencies, advocacy groups, media, schools, educators and anyone else who cares about science and is concerned about national scientific literacy. The scientific community is taking this opportunity to increase public understanding of how science works, who scientists are and why science matters.
The 12-month event is organized along monthly themes.
January: The Process and Nature of Science.
March: Physics and Technology.
April: Energy Resources.
May: Sustainability and the Environment.
June: Ocean and Water.
August: Weather and Climate.
September: Biodiversity and Conservation.
October: Geosciences and Planet Earth.
December: Science and Health.
This year of science marks many anniversaries of scientific landmarks, such as the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth; the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species"; the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, who founded the National Academy of Sciences; the 400th anniversary of the publication of Johannes Keer's first two Laws of Planetary Motion; the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the Burgess Shale, a celebrated find by the paleontologist Charles D. Walcott that held more than 65,000 specimens from the middle Cambrian Age; the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of a telescope to study the skies; the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the USDA Forest Service Experimental Forest and Ranges; and the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.
Keep an eye out for future events hosted at Fort Hays State University this year in celebration of the Year of Science 2009.