This weekend, the Kopernik Observatory & Science Center will host its annual Winter Star Party, which will feature activities that are both family-oriented and for college students. Guests will have the opportunity to stargaze, enjoy refreshments and hear a lecture from a guest speaker over the course of the night.
The Winter Star Party is centered around an educational experience as attendants will view constellations, the Milky Way and the Orion Nebula if the sky stays clear for the night. Guests are encouraged to dress warmly, as the observatory section of the building is not heated.
Each year, the Kopernik Observatory hosts a keynote speaker at the party. This year, Nikole Lewis, associate professor of astronomy at Cornell University and associate astronomer at Space Telescope Science Institute, will be speaking on the topic of exoplanets, which are planets outside of our solar system. The observatory has hosted prominent experts in the astronomy field in the past, with Michelle Thaller, assistant director of science communications at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, speaking in 2013. Thaller did a TEDx talk on dark matter at BU’s campus, delving deeper into the subject as a speaker at the observatory.
The keynote speakers for the Winter Star Party are not limited to only astronomy talks, however. The Kopernik Observatory hosts experts from all categories of science. For example, in years past, the observatory has had a Binghamton professor speak on why the same musical note sounds the same when played through different instruments as well as had employees from the Binghamton Zoo give a behind-the-scenes rundown of what it takes to run a zoo.
“Our speakers are often experts on relevant or interesting topics that the general population would not know too much of, and we have speakers on a diverse range of topics,” said Drew Deskur, executive director of the Kopernik Observatory. “We try and have this wide group of speakers speak — not only speak on these topics but also give unique speeches on each topic.”
Each year, the Winter Star Party is scheduled near the birthday of Mikolaj Kopernik, also known as Nicolaus Copernicus, engraved in history for his model of the solar system as a heliocentric, or centered around the sun, system. The Kopernik Observatory was built in 1974 to celebrate the astronomer’s 500th birthday.
Binghamton’s Astronomy Club is co-hosting the Star Party, as the Kopernik Observatory was fundamental in the club’s inception. The club’s founders were encouraged by the Kopernik team as they were interested in getting a club started with the observatory’s involvement.
“Adam Levine and I founded the club and the reason why we started the club was because we wanted to volunteer somewhere, so we applied to Kopernik’s online application,” said Darci Morello, co-founder and vice president of the Astronomy Club and a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. “So for us, this event is a going back to our roots type of thing.”
The club works with the Kopernik team to promote events at the observatory and the Kopernik Observatory reciprocates the help with resources for the club.
“For Kopernik, the Winter Star Party is a big deal for them, it’s the whole basis for Kopernik, so it’s something we try and push heavily,” Morello said. “They need our help with that and we need their help with other things, so it’s a nice relationship.”
Admission is free, and cake will also be served to celebrate Kopernik’s 546th birthday. Hot beverages will be offered to help attendees acclimate to the cold weather. The Winter Star Party will be held at the Kopernik Observatory & Science Center on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.