The Journal Gazette
 
 
Tuesday, May 19, 2020 1:00 am

Casting their gaze on stars

Local astronomy group now set to help students

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

If you haven't been outside at night lately and looked up at the sky, you're missing out on some amazing scenes.

Not only can you see the planets and the moon, but recent night watchers were treated to the Eta Aquariids meteor shower, which is produced by particles of material left behind by passages of Halley's Comet. The meteor shower continues through May 26.

It's a stargazers' treat and one of the reasons one local group offers up its telescopes for free viewing this time of year.

Gene Stringer with the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society is looking forward to the organization's stargazing season. Of course, like everything else, its scheduled April start was put on hold because of the coronavirus. Right now, the organization is not sure when it will begin.

The group offers public stargazing every clear Saturday at its Star*Quest Observatory in Jefferson Township Park in New Haven through November.

Stringer says it has been the mission of the organization, which was incorporated in 1959, to promote science to the public.

And that mission will expand this year when the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society teams up with Purdue University Fort Wayne and the University of Saint Francis to allow students to work with the organization's newly acquired spectrograph. 

Stringer says the instrument will be used for many types of measurements of stars. The organization will team with the colleges, as well as high schools, to establish lab work for students.

“We're excited about what we're going to be able to do with the school systems we have in our community in offering a tool that allows them to do science,” Stringer says.

“This is something new for us,” he says, adding that the observatory will have to work out how the schools will share the instrument, as well as being able to have students do things they would do when they get out to start working.

Stringer, who has been a stargazer since 1966, says that technology has really grown over the decades. “We have made some astounding advances in our knowledge and in our technology,” he says. “It's an exciting field with many different assets.”

There's also been an increased interest in astronomy, which is one of the reasons why PFW will be offering a concentration in astronomy and astrophysics beginning this fall. It will be the only program of its kind in northeast Indiana.

“Current students that we have had a strong interest in astronomy,” says Mark Masters, professor and chair of the physics department. “Combine that with some of the geoscience and physics, that adds another aspect to that. We are adding it because it is very interesting to people and it is something that we felt given the area – Harris (Corp.) is deeply involved in satellites, Raytheon is involved in that – it makes sense to add it.”

Masters says the four-year program can lead to careers that range from the financial industry, programming, engineers, technicians and astronomers.

He says some of the things the astronomy students will learn includes not only how a telescope works, but how to build one and use it. They will also learn how to analyze data and how to program and simulate data.

That's where the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society comes in. Students will be working out in the field with other stargazers, Masters says. Students will be doing stargazing at the observatory.

In addition, the university also has an observatory that provides freestanding telescopes. It is open to the public when classes are in session and offers a lecture on a certain topic, followed by stargazing. 

Masters says it gives students a chance to go out and look at the sky.

And that's the goal of local stargazers like Stringer and the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society – giving residents, even if they aren't planning on making a career of it, a chance to explore the sky.

Terri Richardson writes about area residents and happenings that affect their lives in this column that publishes every other week. Email her at trich@jg.net or call 461-8304.


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