From UC Santa Cruz: “Lick Observatory hosts Latino students and parents for night of astronomy”

UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz

October 10, 2017
Tim Stephens

Evening event for high school students and their family members, called La Noche de las Estrellas, was the observatory’s first Spanish-language event.

Viewing the stars through Lick Observatory’s historic 36-inch Refractor Telescope was a highlight of the evening for many students during a visit to Lick Observatory organized by UCSC astronomers. (Photo by Rob Knight)

On a recent Friday night at Lick Observatory, high school students from Watsonville, Salinas, Gonzales, and Soledad peered through powerful telescopes at stunning views of the moon and stars. They were invited along with parents and other family members as part of an effort by Lick Observatory and UC Santa Cruz to reach out to Spanish-speaking communities and encourage student interest in the sciences.

“One of our goals is to inspire young people in these communities to get interested in science,” said Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “It was important to include their families in this event so they understand that there are opportunities for their kids in science. We talked about the importance of college and tried to make sure they know that this university welcomes them and values their culture.”

Ramirez-Ruiz was among the speakers at La Noche de las Estrellas, Lick Observatory’s first event with presentations in Spanish, which took place on Friday, September 29. He entranced the students with the story of the cosmic origins of gold. (On follow-up questionnaires, Ramirez-Ruiz was the overwhelming choice for the person students would most like to see again and spend more time with.)

The event was organized by UCSC astronomers Sandra Faber and David Koo, who provided funding for it through a research grant from the National Science Foundation. They and several other UCSC astronomers, including UC Observatories director Claire Max, were on hand to interact with the visiting students and their parents.

MESA Program

Faber and Koo worked with UCSC’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program to connect with teachers and students in high schools where MESA supports educational enrichment programs. Throughout the evening, participants toured the observatory in small groups, learning about the telescopes and engaging in a variety of activities, including observing with amateur astronomer telescopes as well as with Lick Observatory’s 36-inch Refractor and 40-inch Nickel Telescopes.

“When I looked at the moon, I felt a little spark go inside of me,” said Monserrat Soto, a student from Alisal High School in Salinas. “We’ve all seen the moon, but seeing it in a telescope is a whole different perspective.”

Bilingual UC Santa Cruz students served as tour guides for students and parents. “They had to be comfortable translating, because we felt it was really important to engage with the parents at this event,” said Yulianna Ortega, director of STEM Diversity Programs, who recruited the guides. “They’re mostly seniors who have been doing undergraduate research in the sciences, and giving back to their community is important to them.”

Future events

In addition to having presentations in Spanish and translators for the small-group activities, organizers had observatory signs and videos translated into Spanish. Faber said they will be offering the same program again next year with funding from the NSF grant. “We plan to do more outreach to Spanish-speaking communities and offer more of these kinds of events in the future at Lick Observatory, so this is a good start,” Faber said.

“We want to demonstrate our interest in the talent that is in their community,” added Ramirez-Ruiz. “These are talented students who were invited, and we want them to know that they belong and that we want them here at UC Santa Cruz. We are constantly seeking the best talent, and it’s important for us to reach out to those who might not see themselves as scientists or be aware of the opportunities.”

In preparation for La Noche de las Estrellas, graduate students in the astronomy program at UC Santa Cruz brought telescopes and other demonstrations to the participating high schools to introduce the students to some basic concepts in astronomy, including how telescopes work.

“MESA did a great job organizing all this, and the students were enthusiastic and full of questions,” said graduate student Asher Wasserman. “They were very inquisitive and curious.”

MESA academic coordinator Ana Rodarte said they are already getting requests for more events like this. “The students were not expecting the treat they got,” she said. “It’s great that we’re going to have another opportunity to offer this event.”

Ambassador Mauricio Toussaint and others from the Mexican Consulate in San Jose attended the event, along with officials from the UC Office of the President and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Jesus Gonzales, director of the Institute of Astronomy at UNAM (and a former student of Faber’s who earned his Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz), gave a talk on the history of astronomy, from the Mayans to recent research. The event took place the day after a signing ceremony on the UCSC campus establishing a student exchange program between UC Santa Cruz and UNAM.

See the full article here .

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UCO Lick Shane Telescope
UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

UC Santa Cruz campus
The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
March 23, 2015
By Hilary Lebow
The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

“Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

“The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

“We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

“This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

“Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition