Dr. Steve B. Howell
What do gas giants, hot super-Earths and ice giants have in common? They are all considered exoplanets— Earth-size planets that orbit stars—and will be the focus of the College of the Canyons Canyon Country campus’ fall semester Star Party in October.
The fall Star Party will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, in the Canyon Country campus’ Carl A. Rasmussen Amphitheater. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.
At the event, guest speaker Dr. Steve B. Howell, deputy project scientist for the NASA Kepler Space Mission, will lead a discussion titled “The NASA Kepler Mission and Recent Exoplanet Discoveries.”
Attendees will also be able to view gas giants, nebulae and distant galaxies through several high-powered telescopes that will be available. Members of The Local Group Astronomy Club of Santa Clarita will also set up telescopes aimed at any celestial bodies that are visible, which attendees can view.
“If you live in the city, a clear starry sky is a rare sight to behold,” said Ryan Theule, dean of the Canyon Country campus.
COC astronomy professor Teresa Ciardi will create a scale model of the solar system with the help of children in the audience. In relation to Howell’s discussion, she will also demonstrate how planets orbiting other stars can be found.
“This is a rare opportunity for the astronomically inclined to stargaze with a NASA scientist,” said Ciardi. “I’m very excited to hear more about the Kepler Mission from someone directly involved with the project.”
Though some seating will be provided, Star Party attendees are encouraged to get to campus early with blankets, lawn chairs and picnic baskets, to enjoy a festive outdoor atmosphere as the sun begins to set and the night sky emerges.
Food and beverages will also be available for purchase at the event through Lamppost Pizza, operator of the Canyons Café on the Canyon Country campus. A portion of the concession sales from the Star Party are being donated to the Dr. Ram Manvi Memorial Scholarship to benefit students who are majoring in the fields of mathematics, science or engineering technology.
Dr. Manvi was the former Dean of Math, Science and Engineering at College of the Canyons and was instrumental in launching the campus’ initial Star Party event in 2009.
About Steve Howell
Steve Howell is a deputy project scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center and works for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, Ariz. He was recently made a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel on NASA’s Constellation System.
His research focuses on variable and binary stars, charge coupled device (CCD) detectors and ultra-high precision photometry. Howell developed the practice of differential photometry using CCD’s, a technique that is considered the highest precision photometry achieved to date in ground-based exoplanet transit detection.
About the Kepler Mission
Launched in March 2009, the Kepler’s space mission goal was to find Earth-size planets around other stars.
The Kepler Mission surveys Earth’s region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover these exoplanets and help determine how many stars in our galaxy share these characteristics. According to NASA’s website, “results from this mission will allow us to place our solar system within the continuum of planetary systems in the Galaxy.”
So far, Kepler has confirmed the existence of 77 planets. More than 2000 others have been detected and are awaiting confirmation.
The Kepler Mission is a project under NASA’s Discovery Program, which is a series of low-cost, highly focused space missions that explore the Solar System.
For more information about the College of the Canyons fall Star Party, all the Canyon Country campus at 661-362-3801.