Thousands of Minnesotans flooded sites across the state to observe the moon and participate in hands-on astronomy activities this past weekend.
It was all part of the Bell Museum's inaugural Statewide Star Party Nov. 8-11. Parties were held at 30 locations around the state at schools, colleges, museums, parks, organizations and libraries. Centennial Library hosted a party Friday, Nov. 8.
“The purpose of the Statewide Star Party is twofold,” said Statewide Star Party Coordinator Nadia Abuisnaineh. “First, it's part of the Bell Museum’s Minnesota’s Astronomy Classroom Initiative in which we want to be a source of astronomy education to our communities, especially since the Bell Museum hosts the only public planetarium in the state.
“The second is to bring communities together from across the state to share in skywatching and astronomy activities.”
As a continuation of the museum’s yearlong celebration of the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, the theme of this inaugural telescope observing event was “Moon & Beyond.” The Bell Museum developed kits for host sites, which include hands-on science and astronomy activities for a variety of experience levels, reading lists and other resources. All the parties were free to sites and attendees, thanks to funding from Ruth and John Huss and the Hubbard Broadcasting Foundation.
Abuisnaineh, of Mounds View, is a 2011 University of Minnesota graduate from the College of Science and Engineering; her degree is in astrophysics. Before accepting a new role as the Statewide Star Party coordinator, she served as a Solar System Ambassador (SSA), which stems from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The volunteer outreach program sends SSA's across the country to talk to schools, libraries, museums, planetariums and astronomy groups about space and NASA's space exploration programs.
“I've enjoyed looking up at the night sky since I was a kid. I think that's true for most astronomy enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I feel like we as a society don't do it enough. The night sky offers so much serenity, beauty, peace and appreciation for the wonders of our universe and ultimately our creation. It's also personal for me because as a Muslim, it makes me appreciate God as my Creator,” she explained. “Since the beginning of time, humans have looked up at the night sky with amazement and wonder, and I think it's important that we continue that tradition. Not only will it help us learn more about ourselves, but it will help appreciate our universe and our planet more.”
The Bell Museum allowed party hosts some flexibility to add their own components to the event. One thing that is unique about Centennial's event is it was the only one that had a visit from Mike Lynch, a meteorologist at WCCO Radio. Lynch has hosted star watch parties and taught astronomy classes for over 48 years.
Library Associate Matt Youngbauer said, “We have always been big fans of science and astronomy at Centennial (Library). We had Mike Lynch at our old building several years ago and had a really great response. While the program was fantastic, the room we bundled into that cold night was a little cozy. We wanted to have him back now that folks can have a little more elbow room in our new community space.”
Attendees looked through telescopes/binoculars pointed at the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, star clusters, galaxies and other great celestial treasures and checked out constellations like The Big Bear, Cygnus the Swan and Pegasus the Winged Horse and learned about the stories behind them. Along with traditional visual telescopes, there was an astronomical camera system that allowed attendees to see distant celestial targets on a video screen.
Moon-themed activities included calculating how high your jump is on the moon, making a scale model of the Earth moon system and a moon coloring puzzle. Glow-in-the-dark shirts were also available for purchase.
“To look through a telescope, or to spend the night looking up at the stars, can be a mesmerizing experience,” Abuisnaineh said. “We want to share this beauty and experience with our friends and communities. Immersing ourselves in the natural world around us is free and such a rewarding experience.”
If there is enough interest, Abuisnaineh said the hope is to make the Statewide Star Party an annual event. For more information about the Bell Museum, visit bellmuseum.umn.edu/.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.