- Rutherfurd Observatory
- Upcoming Events
- Overview of Activities
- Outreach Officers
- Summary of Completed Outreach Activities
- Media Coverage
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 outreach volunteers that Columbia students can sign up for at https://lists.columbia.edu/mailman/listinfo/astro-outreach-volunteers.
The new homepage for our outreach activities (the public website) is currently under construction. The old website can be accessed at https://astro.outreach.columbia.edu and will redirect to the new website when it becomes available.
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 astro-outreach-admin@…. 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.
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.
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 (www.heaf.org) 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.
- Lecturer - 1 / event
- Lecture Captain - 1 / event
- Lecture Volunteer - 1 / event
- Roof Captain - 1 / event
- Roof Volunteer - 4 / event
- Outreach/Directions/Wildcard - 1 / event
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:
- Movie Captain - 1 / event
- Movie Volunteer - 1 / event
- Telescope Coordinator - 1 / event
- Telescope Volunteer - 2 / event
and here are some additional resources for planning/executing observing:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.aavso.org) (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: http://rv.astro.columbia.edu.
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 Director - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Public Relations and Swag Officer - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Visiting Group Officer - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Design Officer - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Harlem Sidewalk Astronomy Officer - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Family Astro Officer - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Roof Committee - Instructions/Responsibilities
- Multimedia Officer - Instructions/Responsibilities
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
- May 15, 2008 - ''Time Out Kids Magazine'' reviews astronomical opportunities for children in New York City
- Aug 20, 2008 - ''Time Out Magazine'' interviews Kathryn Stanonik before her August
- October 25, 2008 - ''The New York Post'' highlights our stargazing nights as a way for New Yorkers to reduce stress
- March 12, 2009 - Columbia University's ''The Record'' reviews our public lecture series and the history behind the observatory
- April 3, 2009 - Columbia University's News Site covers our Events
- 2009 - Night Sky Network features our efforts
- - Columbia Magazine described our January Public Lecture by Taka Tanaka
- April 28, 2009 - Columbia University's ''Blue and White'' discusses how our observatory is being blocked by the Interdisciplinary Science Building
- 2009 - Columbia University's News Site covers Astronomy Outreach
- May 21, 2009 - Brian Lehrer Interviews Cameron for Columbia's Astronomy
- September 30, 2009 - Columbia University's The Spectator covers the increasing effects of light pollution on the Astronomy Department from the adjacent Interdisciplinary Science Building
- October 5, 2009 - Columbia University's Blue and White covers the "From Earth to the Universe" astrophotography exhibit on Columbia's campus
- October 5, 2009 - Columbia University's The Spectator covers the "From Earth to the Universe" astrophotography exhibit on Columbia's campus
- 2009 - Columbia University's The Spectator prints a letter to the Editor on why the Astronomy Department's view of the sky is important
- October 18, 2009 - Columbia University's The Spectator discusses some philosophical musings on our place in the Universe after having witnessed the "From Earth to the Universe" astrophotography exhibit on Columbia's campus
- October 27, 2009 - The Village Voice investigates some of the difficulties from NYC
- 2010 - WPIX interviews Dr. Joshua Goldston Peek for their human interest story: "Reported UFO Sighting In Brooklyn"
- March 28, 2010 - Columbia University's The Spectator reports on our public outreach night interviewing graduate students Erika Hamden and Yuan Li as well as undergraduate Ian Allen
- December 21, 2010 - The New York Times had a photographer present at our total lunar eclipse event. His photography from our site was featured twice.
- December 21, 2010 - NPR's The Takeaway discussed the total lunar eclipse with Cameron Hummels and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
- December 24, 2010 - The New York Times talks about the total lunar eclipse event at Columbia.
- February 11, 2012 - CBS local affiliate includes Columbia in NYC’s& Events For Science Lovers.
- March 26, 2011 - The New York Times Nocturnalist blogger writes about the emotional response to our public lectures and stargazing events.
- May 20, 2012 - CBS local affiliate includes Columbia in NYC’s.
- May 31, 2012 - The Rachel Maddow Show blog covers the transit of Venus with Summer Ash and Columbia's outreach plans.
- June 5, 2012 - The New York Times covers local viewing opportunities for the transit of Venus.
- June 5, 2012 - Gothamist includes Columbia's locations in the Best Places To Watch Transit Of Venus In NYC.
- June 5, 2012 - EnStarz mentions Columbia in their post on Places to Watch Planet Venus Passing the Sun.
- June 5, 2012 - CBS local affiliate films Columbia's transit of Venus event in Harlem and interviews Cameron Hummels.
- 2012 - Newsday covers the transit of Venus event at 's participating Rooftop Variable schools in New Rochelle.
- 2013 - Time Out NY's Winter Survival Guide includes stargazing at Columbia.
- January 22, 1013 - Filmmaker Mark Harris interviews Summer Ash about astronomy outreach as part of an interactive film screening at Lincoln Center Film Society.
- March 2, 2013 - Munier Salem and Summer Ash support astrophotography exhibit at Brooklyn gallery, Grumpy Bert.
- May 17, 2013 - NY Post feature on where to see the stars includes interview with Summer Ash and mention of Columbia's public events.
- April 11, 2014 The New York Times features this week's public lecture in the Weekend Miser.
- June 20, 2014 Columbia stargazing highlighted in The New York Times City Room for the summer solstice.
- February 5, 2015 Columbia stargazing included as best NYC winter date options.
- November 24, 2015 Time Out NY's Things to Do
- April 20, 2016 Red Tricycle See Stars (and More!) at Free Columbia U. Astronomy Nights
- August 8, 2016 The New Yorker interviews Marcel Aügeros for a short film on the night sky and light pollution
- October 8, 2016 Bwog covers Maria Charisi's lecture "Black Hole Duet"
- [tktk Marcel in WSJ]
- February 23, 2017 Moiya McTier on MSNBC talking about TRAPPIST-1
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:
2010 - Outer Space!
2011 - The Truth About Black Holes
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Astronomy Outreach Logo
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Master Template for Outreach Slideshows (Open Office Format)
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Master Template for Outreach Slideshows (Powerpoint Format)
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