York Universe attends ‘What’s Up in Space?’

This was a collaborative post, written by Jesse, Julie, Ryan, and Lianne, and included private communications with Paul.

     On May 25, 2013, the York Universe team (represented by Jesse Rogerson, Ryan Marciniak, Lianne Manzer, and Paul Delaney) in collaboration with York alumni Julie Tomé, attended the 2nd annual What’s Up in Space? event organized by the AstroNuts Kids Space Club.
The AstroNuts are a very energetic group of children aged 8-12 that meets once month at their Home Base in Newmarket, Ontario. For each meeting, Ray Bielecki (the club manager) organizes a range of science programming from one of Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM). Ray will often invite presenters to help him engage with the children. The club’s website describes the group best: “We are not a registered company, not a charity, not an association, not a not-for-profit, not a for-profit, we are ‘just’ an amazing local fun kids space club.”
The What’s Up in Space? event was designed to extend the reach of the AstroNuts to a broader audience. The AstroNuts can only maintain a relatively small group of club members, but for one day every year, Ray Bielecki and the AstroNuts team are able to engage hundreds of children at a time. York Universe and the York University Astronomical Observatory have presented at the event in the past, and we were all so excited to be invited back.

What's Up in Space? Crowd

The crowd at the 2nd Annual What’s Up in Space? event. Children aged 5 to 8 attended. In this picture, Ray Bielecki is introducing Dr. Dave Williams, Canadian Astronaut.

An Impressive List

This year the event boasted over 15 different presenters and attendees who volunteered their time to engage children with space science. Among many others, the list of presenters included Canadian astronaut Dr. Dave Williams, a skype visit from writer/rocket scientist Homer Hickam, the FLL Championship Robotics team, Luke Gustafson writer of Star Acer Academy, and Teressa Black, director of the Challenger Learning Centre at the Ontario Science Centre. Each presenter brought their own interesting and engaging presentation covering topics from space engineering to backyard telescope astronomy.
It would be impossible to cover in any detail the amazing presentations we saw over the afternoon; instead, we will showcase only the two presentations that the York Universe team participated in.

A Planetary Conjunction

Professor Paul Delaney, director of the York University Astronomical Observatory, lecturer, and co-host of York Universe, created a presentation on the planetary conjunction of Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter that was to occur on May 26, 2013 (the day following the What’s Up in Space? event). A planetary conjunction is when multiple planets pass by each other in the sky. In this case, the three planets listed above were within 3 degrees of each other. If you were to hold your fist at arm’s length, you would be able block all three planets from your view. A conjunction of this nature happens rarely, and was something that Paul thought important to inform everyone about.

Professor Paul Delaney getting the children yelling and screaming about the planets!

Professor Paul Delaney getting the children yelling and screaming about the planets!

Paul, being the engaging presenter he is, used the conjunction as a reason to get the event attendees interested and excited about backyard astronomy. Paul began first by getting the children yelling and screaming. He would start by presenting the children with an image showing a small section of a planet in our solar system, and then ask if they knew which planet it was. There were no shortage of great guesses from the audience. After hearing many guesses, Paul would then post the full image of the Planet. This was done for each of the three planets in the conjunction, finally ending with an image of the Planetary Conjunction to-be.

On May 26, 2013 three very bright planets were within 3 degrees of each other on the sky. Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter clustered together in the North West sky at sunset, providing an opportunity for some great backyard astronomy. This is Paul's final slide of his presentation. See the links below for more information on the planetary conjunction

On May 26, 2013 three very bright planets were within 3 degrees of each other on the sky. Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter clustered together in the North West sky at sunset, providing an opportunity for some great backyard astronomy. This is Paul’s final slide of his presentation. See the links below for more information on the planetary conjunction.

Not only did the audience get to yell and scream, and be excited about astronomy, they were also armed with the knowledge of something about to happen in their night sky. It is empowering for anyone to be able to go out and look at the night sky and be able to recognize something they were shown before. We hope many little astronomers took the opportunity to go look at the conjunction of Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter!

Team Astronomy takes on Orion

Next up was Jesse Rogerson, Ryan Marciniak, Lianne Manzer, and Julie Tomé (dubbed ‘Team Astronomy’ by Ray Bielecki). At What’s Up in Space? 2012, we presented on the sizes of the planets in our solar system. Using cardboard, we made cutouts of the planets from the smallest (Mercury) to the largest (Jupiter), keeping the relative sizes of the cutouts equal to the relative sizes of the planets. As a result we had a planet Mercury that was 7 cm wide, and a planet Jupiter that was 200 cm wide. For the presentation we got all the children to name the planets, and put them in the proper order from the Sun.

Former York Universe co-host and outreach programmer at the David Thompson Astronomical Observatory in Thunder Bay, Rob Berthiaume lays atop the solar system developed for the inaugural What's Up in Space? event in 2012.

Former York Universe co-host (now outreach programmer at the David Thompson Astronomical Observatory in Thunder Bay) Rob Berthiaume lays atop the solar system developed for the inaugural What’s Up in Space? event in 2012.

This year we wanted to top that presentation. Our main goal when planning out our presentation was to come up with an activity that was not just interactive but actually active. This can be tough with a subject like astronomy, after all, for the most part we cannot actually touch what we’re studying – our 5 senses reduced to 1. After some brainstorming (galaxy rotation, lunar/solar eclipses, making comets) we decided to illustrate that our night sky is 3 dimensional, that the constellations as we see them are, well, just that – as we see them – someone on a planet orbiting a distant star would not see the same configuration of stars on their night sky, because stars do not lie on a 2 dimensional plane. Some stars are close to us, some are far; it is only our view point from Earth that allows us to see the constellations we all know.
In order to accomplish this demonstration of 2D vs. 3D, we decided to create a model of a famous constellation that could be viewed from many angles. Our equipment list was pretty simple: PVC pipes, balloons, lots of tape, and a camera with a tripod. Balloons were used to represent the stars and were fixed to the top of the pipes, which had been cut to the appropriate lengths. We marked on the floor the locations where each PVC pipe should be placed so that when held upright a picture could be taken to show that from one spot the balloon-stars made up the constellation of Orion.

Here's Lianne helping develop the 3D model of the Orion Constellation. We used PVC pipe to hold the stars up. In this picture, they haven't been cut to the proper sizes yet, but are standing in the correct locations on the floor. The view from Earth would be off to the left behind the camera.

Here’s Lianne helping develop the 3D model of the Orion Constellation. We used PVC pipe to hold the stars up. In this picture, they haven’t been cut to the proper sizes yet, but are standing in the correct locations on the floor. The view from Earth would be off to the left behind the camera.

We chose Orion because it is very well known, and very easy to see both in the country and in the city. Lucky for the team, this is a demonstration that has been done before. It is common for astronomers to want to explain the 3D nature of constellations, so we were able to borrow from the work of others. More specifically, in our research we found a paper entitled ‘The Orion Constellation as an Installation’ by Dr. Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University. In the paper, Dr. Brown lays out the different 3-dimensional locations of each of the 7 major stars in the Orion constellation. The model stretched 10 meters by 2 meters on the floor, and 2 meters vertical.
The fun part was presenting. Ryan was able to introduce the idea that stars are different sizes and at different distances in the Universe:

Ryan uses balloons to show how some stars are big, some are small, and their distance from us makes them appear bigger or smaller.

Ryan uses balloons to show how some stars are big, some are small, and their distance from us makes them appear bigger or smaller.

Lianne gave us a more in-depth look at the constellation of Orion:

Lianne chatted about the different stars of Orion, her favourite constellation.

Lianne chatted about the different stars of Orion, her favourite constellation.

Jesse chatted about vantage points and the stories of constellations. Finally, Julie gathered up 7 volunteers to hold our stars, and we all made sure they stood in the proper places. Here’s what that looked like from the side:

Jesse walks through the balloons talking about vantage points. From the perspective of this image, the balloons make no recognizable image.

Jesse walks through the balloons talking about vantage points. From the perspective of this image, the balloons make no recognizable image.

and here’s what that looked like through the lens of Julie’s camera:

Left: When you are viewing the model from the correct line of sight, the PVC pipes and balloons line up to make the Constellation Orion. Team Astronomy was able to put this image up immediately allowing everyone to see how the Earth point of view makes the constellation. Right: An image of Orion by Matthew Spinelli. This was sourced through Astronomy Picture of the Day. See below for links.

Left: When you are viewing the model from the correct line of sight, the PVC pipes and balloons line up to make the Orion constellation. Team Astronomy was able to put this image up immediately allowing everyone to see how the Earth point of view makes the constellation. Right: An image of Orion for comparison, by Matthew Spinelli. This was sourced through APOD. See below for links.

Julie was able to get this picture put up on the screen immediately, so both the volunteers and the rest of the audience were able to see, first hand, that the constellations we see are only a result of our view into the cosmos.

The Team!

From Left to Right. Ryan talking about the sizes of stars while Lianne, Julie, and Jesse stand by.

From Left to Right. Ryan talking about the sizes of stars while Lianne, Julie, and Jesse stand by.

Science Outreach

It is very important to engage children with the STEM subjects, as these offer a way of challenging children to think, creating productive problem solvers and critical thinkers, developing an appreciation for how science works (and who does it), and creating an overall investment in the future. Professor Paul Delaney and ‘Team Astronomy’ all embrace these ideas, and look for as many opportunities to engage as possible. We thank Ray Bielecki and the AstroNuts for taking the time put together an event that brings together so many great presenters/researchers/volunteers and reaches so many children. We look forward to next year.

…and oh ya, there were Storm Troopers there!

'These aren't the droids you're looking for.' (L-R) Ryan, Lianne, and Jesse hanging out with Garrison 501.

‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.’ (L-R) Ryan, Lianne, and Jesse hanging out with Garrison-501.

A great shot. See you all next year!

This is the FLL Championship Robotics team displaying for the crowd how they're different robots work.

This is the FLL Championship Robotics team displaying for the crowd how their different robots work.

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Suggested Reading:
AstroNuts Kids Space Club – homepage (and links therein)
UniverseToday.com – Rare Spectacular Triple Planetary Conjunction Wows World
The Physics Teacher – The Orion Constellation as an Installation
YouTube Video – The Orion Constellation in 3D
Star Acer Academy – homepage
David Thompson Astronomical Observatory – homepage
Astronomy Picture of the Day – Orion on Film