White House Astronomy Night is tonight

Posted by Korey Haynes
on Monday, October 19, 2015

President Obama looks through a telescope at the first White House Astronomy Night in 2009. // Chuck Kennedy (White House)
This evening marks the White House's second-ever Astronomy Night. President Obama is hosting astronomers, engineers, scientists, and especially teachers and students for a night of stargazing and other hands-on astronomy activities. Guests can chat with astronomers, astronauts, and even Mythbusters, learn  astronomy-inspired stories and navigational techniques from Native American and Hawaiian traditions, and explore some of the latest technology innovations in space travel and astrophysical observing.

The White House is pairing their event with announcements about commitments from the private sector to encourage investment and participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), especially for underrepresented minorities. Astronomy is often seen as a gateway science because it is the perfect vehicle to encourage people, especially young people, to engage more deeply in STEM in order to participate in a hobby and activity they enjoy. Gazing at the night sky, whether through a backyard telescope or the technological feat of the Hubble Space Telescope, inspires people of all ages and backgrounds. It is that sense of wonder and curiosity that the White House hopes will spur future generations to take part in the wider scientific community and solve the challenges and questions that face us all. And they are encouraging organizations of all types to help in supporting young scientists to achieve their goals.

NASA, for instance, matches education and outreach initiatives to every major mission. In one of their latest projects, they are pairing with the Zooniverse project to ask citizen scientists to pore over data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission to identify nearby targets for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018.

NASA is also partnering with the Museum of Science Fiction and Cornell University to support high school students' efforts to develop and launch CubeSat projects. CubeSats are tiny boxes, roughly 3 pounds (1 kilogram) in weight and 4 inches across (10 centimeters), that are designed to be flown as auxiliary cargo, piggy-backing on larger missions. They allow even small student groups to experience the true scientific process of planning and launching missions with genuine scientific merit into space under affordable conditions.

Check out the full list of organizations that are supporting STEM initiatives here.

While the White House's star party is invite only, observatories, universities, museums, and astronomy clubs around the country are hosting their own events to coincide with tonight's presidential party. You can check a map here to find an event near you. And if you want to join in remotely, portions of tonight's events at the White House will be streamed live. Clear skies!

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