Astronomy Outreach Logo


This page is designed to keep members of the Columbia astronomy internal community informed of outreach events. Most importantly, it allows people who are interested in volunteering to check in and see what is being planned and where their help is needed. There is also a mailing list for Columbia students who wish to be outreach volunteers. to subscribe to that list, send an email to with the single line in the body (the subject line is irrelevant):

subscribe astro-outreach-volunteers Your Full Name

The public outreach website is

If you're interested in giving an outreach lecture in a coming semester, or if after reading this you think there's a way you'd like to help out, please contact the outreach coordinator at Remember that you do not have to have any prior experience doing outreach/teaching to participate. The most important thing is that you care and want to share the Universe with people.

Rutherfurd Observatory

Information on the telescopes and facilities on the roof of Pupin Hall can be found on the Rutherfurd Observatory Wiki.

If you would like access to the observatory manual for use, care, and maintenance of the telescopes and facilities , please check out the Observatory Manual.

Upcoming Events

Note: If you are signed up to volunteer for a date and you cannot make it, you must find someone to replace you. This lets us make sure we have enough staff to properly run each event. Please inform the relevant Captains for the evening of who your replacement will be.


Cancelled/Date TBD to possibly be rescheduled

These events were cancelled or indefinitely postponed in early 2020. This list is retained so we can continue to contact external groups to arrange alternate virtual or in-person events if and when possible"

CANCELLED Tuesday, March 10th, 12pm Girls Inc (High School, Data analysis class)
Volunteers(2): Jana Grcevich

POSTPONED Friday, March 13, 8pm Talks/Spring2019/Outreach/20200313 Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe - Jerry Ostriker

CANCELLED Tuesday, March 31st, 6PM-8PM Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth (30, possibly 60, high School age)

CANCELLED Wednesday or Thursday, April 1st or April 2nd, Dusk Sidewalk Astronomy
Volunteers(4): Matthew Abruzzo

CANCELLED Saturday, April 18th, 9am - 4pm (not the whole time) Columbia's Girls Science Day

CANCELLED April 26th, 6PM-8PM Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth (30, possibly 60, high School age)

CANCELLED April 29th or April 30th, Dusk Sidewalk Astronomy

CANCELLED May 27th or May 28th, Dusk Sidewalk Astronomy

POSTPONED, DATE TBD Friday, April 3rd, 8pm Talks/Spring2019/Outreach/20200214 Art and Time: Axial precession, archaeastronomy, and marking a desert nuclear waste site (WIPP) for the next ten millennia (Artist Talk) - Madeline Sunley

DATE TBD Girl Scout Troop 6000 (~25 girls + adults)

DATE TBD Harlem Educational Activities Fund ( After School Program (High School age)

DATE TBD Office of University Life Movie

Overview of Activities

Public Lectures and Stargazing Nights

We try to do a stargazing session every roof. Each stargazing night is coupled with an astronomy talk and a slideshow or two. The talk & slideshows are especially worthwhile when the sky is cloudy, which is usually the case (less than half of the nights are clear from NYC). Traditionally it has been Friday nights; however, transient events like eclipses, transits, and comets demand alternative scheduling.

These are a lot of fun when the weather cooperates. In pre-COVID times turnout was typically around 100 - a mixture of Columbia students (15%), local families (20%), and amateur astronomers (5%) and interested adults from the community (60%). At a recent event we took an informal poll of the attendees and determined that only 25% of them were affiliated with the University, meaning that 75% of our audience is from the general public as a whole (great news)! Furthermore, 25% of our audience is coming from outside of Manhattan, which surprised us all.

Due to university requirements, on campus talk and stargazing series for Fall 2021 (and possibly beyond) will be open to in-person attendence by Columbia affiliates only, but will be recorded for the public. We may also arrange for public talks and stargazing (in the style of sidewalk astronomy or virtual/remote observing with the big dome telescope) at an outdoor venue to be determined. Unfortunately there will not be an opportunity for the non-Columbia-affiliated public to physically visit Pupin Hall during Fall 2021 due to University-wide COVID restrictions.

Lectures typically last 30 minutes, and stargazing follows that for another 90 minutes or so. We offer slideshows as a post-lecture option. These mini-lectures are run concurrently with the stargazing so that people can cycle between the various stations and get more out of the event (or get a respite from the cold).

Our volunteer staff consists almost entirely of graduate students, although we have a few undergrads, post-docs, and professors who make occasional appearances.

If you're interested in giving an outreach lecture, either a 30 minute or shorter talk in a coming semester, please contact Jana Grcevich by email or by calling (929) 274-2912.

Here is a list of instructions/responsibilities for the various roles associated with our Public Lecture and Stargazing Nights. If you are signed up for a given role, please review your responsibilities.

and here are some additional resources for planning/executing observing on the roof or activities after the lecture:

Science Fiction Film Series

In addition to our normal public lectures and stargazing, we sometimes offer science fiction film screenings, usually during the summer months when sunset is too late to . The idea is to show people astrophysically-themed films with varying amounts of fact and fiction. Each film is accompanied by a short lecture discussing the relevant science and fiction. As in all our Friday night events, we also offer observing if the weather cooperates. However, we don't open up the roof but just have our portable telescopes brought to College Walk or in front of Pupin.

These events begin with announcements by the Movie Captain, a brief(along with relevant themes to look out for during the film, or the context in which the film was made or other interesting non-spoiler information). Then the film is shown in its entirety. After the film, the audience is invited to remain for the the relevant science in the film, as well as an informal discussion between scientists and the audience. In addition, if the weather permits, we have telescopes set up outside of Pupin for audience members to look through on their way out.

Our volunteer staff consists almost entirely of graduate students, although we have a few undergrads and a post-doc who make occasional appearances. We currently have a healthy core of observing volunteers, but it's always good to have different faces, so sign up (or just show up to see what it's like)! If you are unfamiliar with our equipment, training sessions with the veterans can be arranged.

Here is a list of instructions/responsibilities for the various roles associated with Public Lecture and Stargazing Nights. If you are signed up for a given role, you must know your responsibilities.

Movie Nights have a slightly different layout:

and here are some additional resources for planning/executing observing:

Family Astro

We hold "Family Astro" days on a day each semester, on a hands-on activity in the library. Resources for planning the activity are on the web; for example: here). Aside from running the lesson for or so, the volunteers need to get materials and snacks. It is a four-person job if there is a typical turnout of about. Since that number can vary widely, it is useful to ask parents to sign up in advance.

Activities for Family Astro
Activities for Group Visitations

Group Visitations

We get frequent requests from school/scout/activity groups to come visit the department. We handle these on a case-by-case basis, but generally all groups get a tour of the observatory, observing and some sort of lesson administered by our volunteer graduate students. Events typically end by 10.

Activities for Family Astro
Activities for Group Visitations

Sidewalk Astronomy on Harlem

We take our portable telescopes out and engage the public where they are. We carry one/two 6" Dobsonians to the Adam Clayton Powell Plaza on clear evenings. Sky lights are bright, but from here we have a good view of the ecliptic, which allows us to see the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn when those planets are visible, as well as Orion, Taurus, etc. Observation of deep-sky objects is difficult, but views of the first-quarter moon and planets are extremely popular.

Educational Material Giveaways

After writing to the EPO officers for several NASA space telescopes, we've received an abundance of outreach materials including posters, pins, pictures, CDs, bookmarks, trading cards, etc. We give these away at our events depending on supplies.

3DWall Events

There is a stereoscopic projection system (i.e. movies) installed in the classroom (Pupin 1332) that is outdated. There is an opportunity for someone to adapt the polarized screen, double projection system with polarizing filters, and other

Information about the outdated 3D wall system included a wide range of astronomical datasets from stars to the cosmos and has been used for a number of public outreach and education activities (including some Public Lecture Nights). For more information and training, please see Greg Bryan and read its wiki entry.

Rooftop Variables

The Rooftop Variables outreach program entitled Rooftop Variables began in October 2008. Spearheaded by Marcel Agüeros and funded by a Chandra grant, this program pairs graduate students with motivated high school science teachers from around New York City. The program provides the teachers with an 6" telescope and a CCD camera for use with their science students with the aim of starting an astronomy club at each respective school. Originally, grads mentored the teachers in proper use of the equipment and teach them how to make variable star observations (as per (Variable stars are an area where the amateur community has a huge impact on observing programs). Later, the program evolved. While the funding situation, we are actively seeking individuals interested in developing long-term relationships with our core group of motivated, If you'd like to learn more and/or potentially volunteer, Rooftop Variables has its own website at:

Middle School Program

The middle school program is designed to bring astronomy, specifically information about galaxies, into classrooms throughout New York City through presentations by Columbia astronomers. The presentation currently available is called, 'A Day in the Life of an Astronomer', and follows an astronomer to an observatory and discusses the light detected and the nature of the observed galaxies. The program is interactive throughout and includes numerous pictures and movies of galaxies, astronomers observing, and the basics of light and gravity. When supplies are available, students also receive a 'kit', including a diffraction grating, a pencil to demonstrate gravity, and a galaxy picture. An additional program entitled, 'Our Place in the Milky Way', involves flying from New York City to the outskirts of our Galaxy. Please contact Mary Putman if you are interested in this program.

Outreach Officers

Summary of Completed Outreach Activities

Past Stargazing Dates

Clear nights are underlined.

2006: Sep 22, Sep 29, Oct 20, Oct 27, Nov 17, Dec 15

2007: Jan 19, Jan 26, Feb 23, Mar 3, Mar 23, April 20, June 22, Jul 19, Aug 17, Sep 14, Oct 14, Oct 19, Nov 2, Nov 16, Nov 30, Dec 14

2008: Feb 1, Feb 15, Feb 20, Feb 29, Mar 14, Mar 28, Apr 11, April 25, May 9, May 30, Jun 13, Jun 27, Jul 11, Jul 25, Aug 8, Aug 22, Sep 5, Sep 19, Oct 3, Oct 10, Oct 24, Nov 7, Nov 21, Dec 5

2009: Jan 16, Jan 30, Feb 13, Feb 27, Mar 6, Mar 20, Apr 3, Apr 17, May 1, May 15, May 29, Jun 12, Jun 26, Jul 10, July 24, Aug 14, Aug 28, Sep 18, Sep 25, Oct 9, Oct 23, Nov 6, Nov 20, Dec 4

2010: Jan 22, Feb 5, Feb 19, March 5, March 26, Apr 9, Apr 23, May 7, Jun 6, Jun 19, Jul 2, Jul 16, Jul 30, Aug 13, Sep 3, Sep 17, Oct 15, Oct 29, Nov 12, Dec 3, Dec 17

2011: Jan 14, Jan 28, Feb 11, Feb 25, Mar 11, Mar 25, Apr 8, Apr 22, May 6, May 27, Jun 10, Jun 24, Jul 8, Jul 22, Aug 5, Aug 19, Sep 2, Sep 30, Oct 7, Oct 21, Nov 4, Nov 18, Dec 2

2012: Feb 3, Feb 17, Mar 2, Mar 16, Mar 30, Apr 13, Apr27, May 11, Jun 1, Jun 15, Jun 29, Aug 10, Aug 24, Sep 14, Sep 28, Oct 5, Oct 19, Nov 16, Nov 30, Dec 14

2013: Feb 1, Feb 15, Mar 1, Mar 15, Apr 5, Apr 19, May 3, May 17, Jun 14, Jul 12, Aug 16, Sep 13, Sep 27, Oct 10, Oct 25, Nov 8, Nov 22, Dec 6

2014: Feb 7, Feb 21, Mar 7, Sept 12, Sept 26, Oct 10, Oct 24, Nov 7, Nov 21, Dec 5

2015: Jan 30, Feb 13, Feb 27, Mar 13, Mar 27, Apr 10, Sep 18, Oct 2, Oct 16, Oct 30

2016: Jan 29, Feb 19, Mar 4, Apr 1, Apr 29, Oct 7, Oct 21, Nov 4, Nov 18, Dec 2, Dec 16

2017: Feb 3, Feb 17, Mar 3, Mar 17, Apr 21, Sep 29, Oct 13, Oct 27, Nov 10, Dec 1, Dec 15

2018: Sept 21, Oct 5, Oct 19, Nov 2, Nov 16, Nov 30, Dec 7, Feb 1, Feb 15, Mar 1, Mar 15, Mar 29, Apr 15, Apr 26, May 10, May 24


Feb 1?, Feb 15?, Mar 1?, Mar 15?, Mar 29?, Apr 12?, Apr 26?, May 10?, May 24?, May 31?, Oct 4th, Oct 18th, Nov 1st?, Nov 15th?, Dec 6th?, Dec 20th

Media Coverage



In order to recognize the outstanding work d, we created an award for the best public outreach talk of the year. Votes are taken by members of the department who attended at least two talks. Award criteria are:

  • Interesting topic
  • Content effectively conveyed
  • Fluidity of presentation

We are happy to call this the APPLAUSE Award (Award for Pupin Public Lecture in Astronomy for Universal Science Education), which is awarded with a congratulatory bottle of champagne. Below is our list of past winners:

2008 - The Colors of Life: Astrobiology through Newton's Prism

2009 - Three-way tie! Astrophysics at the LHC, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Microscopic Black Holes, Science vs. Fiction in Science Fiction, and Will the World End in 2012?

2010 - Outer Space!

2011 - The Truth About Black Holes

Last modified 20 months ago Last modified on 11/14/22 22:04:13

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