Greenhalge After School: Week of 1/14

This past week the students of Greenhalge Elementary School explored what humans to need in order to live on another planet. Students started out by thinking about what humans need here on Earth and brainstorming different ideas of how that would apply on another planet.

After students thought of everything they could, we came together as a group to make a master list and talk about how those could be replicated somewhere else in Space.

From there, we examined the temperatures of the different planets to see which planet might be the best to live on besides Earth. Students saw just how cold most of the planets are and were shocked to see those temperatures in comparison to the temperatures of ice cubes, hot soup, and candle flames. After seeing how a runaway greenhouse effect on Venus made it so hot (demonstrated with a bottle of water and baking soda), students agreed that the most viable planet to live on in the Solar System beyond Earth would probably be Mars.

Next time we will explore gravity!

Greenhalge After School Program

Today was the start of the Active Astronomy Roadshow’s after school series with the Greenhalge Elementary school in Lowell. Throughout the course of the semester, we will be working with the students on learning about the attributes of the planets, making telescopes, spectroscopes, landers, and rockets, and reading about famous scientists and important technology needed for Space exploration.

The students know a lot about astronomy already and were excited to learn about the planets this afternoon! Students got the opportunity to hear a little about some of the different things that we will be covering over the course of the program and were free to ask any questions. They asked about black holes, the formation of the Moon, astronauts, and all about different planets. After a question session, students made a live model of the Solar System and had the opportunity to see why a model is needed in Astronomy. Finally, students got the opportunity to rank planets, stars, and every day objects based on speed and size. Next week we will be talking about conditions on other planets and what it would take to survive on them!

Weston High School Visit 12/8

On Dec. 8, the 9th grade class of Weston High School came to the Kennedy College of Science at UML to learn about the college and get the opportunity to experience some of the different areas of study that professors research. The Active Astronomy Roadshow, led by Dr. Silas Laycock, and supported by Dr. Chandrika Narayan,Tom Heywosz, and Nate Woodward, with technical help from David Riccio, explored light and what it could tell astronomers.

Students started off looking through diffraction gratings at heated tubes of glowing gas to try and distinguish what  was in the tube using the emission spectra of the gas. Students looked at Neon (a crowd favorite due to the bright red color), Helium, Hydrogen, and the most difficult gas, Air. After looking at the different gases, we talked with students about how this technology was used in Astronomy, on a much greater scale, to determine the composition of Celestial Objects.  

After talking about emission spectra, we looked at Schlieren Imaging, which is the process of showing the flow of gases of varying densities. Students got the chance to see gas flowing on a screen connected to a camera and mirror set up. While students had fun playing with a heat gun and compressed air, and Dr. Laycock had fun using the blow torch, the point was to illustrate how much our eyes miss. We need to use all kinds of wavelengths and techniques to see the world in its entirety.

2017 Kennedy College of Sciences Block Party

On a bright Wednesday in October, the Active Astronomy Roadshow and the UML Astronomy Club worked together on a table for the Kennedy College of Sciences 3rd annual Block Party.

At the table we had several posters going over our work in Haiti and the overall work of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST), some candy, stickers, two telescopes, and a gravity simulator. Students and staff got the opportunity to look through our new Coronado Solar Telescope and see sunspots moving throughout the sun.

When a group of students came around, we got the opportunity to use a sheet of lycra, a heavy rock, marbles, and golf balls to simulate the motion of satellites in Space.

We hope to continue getting our name out in the uml community and are excited to see what the rest of the year brings us. Can’t wait to figure out what to do for next year’s table!

2017 Solar Eclipse

On Monday, August 21, member of LoCSST traveled across the country to view the solar eclipse in an effort to research the phenomenon and get great images to use for the outreach program.

Dr. Silas Laycock traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho with a Coronado solar telescope with an H-alpha filter to get images of the eclipse during totality and to test out the new telescope and mount that will be used for the outreach activities.

Back in Lowell, I led a viewing party for faculty, staff, and students of uml with 50 pairs of eclipse glasses and an iOptron telescope with an aluminum filter. We had a huge turnout of over 50 people (I had to keep running around for glasses) and it was interesting to hear about why everyone thought it was interesting and why they wanted to view the event. Even though we only had 63% coverage in Lowell, it was still an extraordinary sight to see.

Here is one of the pictures taken through the telescope. Hopefully more pictures to come.



Bresnahan Elementary STEM Expo

On Thursday, April 27, the Active Astronomy Roadshow traveled to Francis T. Bresnahan Elementary School in Newburyport to participate in their STEM Expo. The Roadshow brought two teams, one leading a High Altitude Balloon activity and the other leading an activity on gravity and the Fabric of Space-Time.

The High Altitude Team, consisting of Danae, Tsogt, and Dr. Laycock, had students looking at what high altitude balloons are used for and how to engineer develop different mechanisms for different purposes. Students got the chance to use a remote control release mechanism to release a camera that was recording them. Afterwards, the students got to watch the videos they made and see how they looked from high up in the gym.


The Gravity Team, consisting of Tom, Alex, and Ruchit, explored the concept of gravity, orbits, and the bending of Space-Time. Students got the chance to look at how differing amounts of force alter orbits, how Space-Time is bent by massive objects, and about the scientist behind these ideas. Students rolled different size balls on a sheet of Lycra to try and orbit a rock and tried to figure out the different forces needed to get the best orbit.

We were so impressed with the questions that the students were asking and how engaged they were with all the different activities. We hope to be back again next year!

Robinson School Stars, and UMass Lowell Astronomy Club’s First Light.

We helped the Robinson Middle School team up with the brand new UMass Lowell astronomy Club for a star party last month. Christian Hill Reservoir overlooking Lowell was the location, high , clear, and cloud free, and a LOT of telescopes.

Venus, showing a spectacular crescent phase was the star of the night, appearing alongside the (also) crescent moon.  Distant galaxies, color contrating double stars and the enigmatic “Double-Double” multiple star system Epsilon Lyrae, joined the familial shapes of Orion and Cassiopaeia.

William Clockedille, president of the new club brought half a dozen of the club members (some of whom have some serious optics), including Paul Courtemanche – telescope maker extraordinaire – who brought a double-barreled 8-inch binocular scope and a long-focus newtonian planetary scope both prize winning instruments in the high-fidelity world of amateur telescope making

Robinson Teachers including Mr Bishop and Ms Sanborn brought hot chocolate, and a high degree of enthusiasm to the freezing night.

We hope to do much more of this as the heath worms up!

Robinson School Visit 1/26

In preparation for a Star Party on February 2, Dr. Silas Laycock, Dr. Viktor Podolskiy, and I traveled to Robinson Middle School on Thursday, January 26, armed with two telescopes and two large mirrors. The purpose of the visit was to allow students to practice with astronomical technology that they would encounter at an observatory. We worked with Ms. Syzmanoski”s, Ms. Sanborn’s, and Ms. Howell’s 8th grade science classes going over the different celestial objects that students would be able to see in the Winter sky. After talking about Venus, the Pleiades, and Betelgeuse, we went around and showed students how a reflecting telescope, lens telescope, and light in general, through the use of mirrors, work.


Students got the chance to look through the telescopes, try focusing telescopes, and asking any questions they had about the technology.

We hope that the students are excited to look at the stars and we know we are excited to continue our partnership with Robinson Middle School!



Kennedy College of Sciences 2nd Annual Block Party

The Active Astronomy Roadshow traveled to Cumnock Hall on North Campus to run a table at the Kennedy College of Sciences 2nd Annual block-party1Block Party! With a telescope and astronomy cards in hand, Silas, Andy, Sarah, and Tom set up activities for university students to play that would be used in our classroom activities. Students, faculty, and staff got to try their hand at ranking the planets, along with a few other everyday objects, by temperature, mass, gravity, and diameter with a glow in the dark star as a prize for players. Players used all kinds of methods to reason through the ordering of the objects and I personally learned a few new ways of thinking about how planets could be thought about. Participants also were able toblock-party3 point and focus our reflecting telescope at points around the hall to get a feel for the wonders of stargazing.The Block party was a great hit and we were able to spread the block-party4word about our local astronomy activities, the Schueller Observatory, LoCSST, and the HDSC all while having some fun. In the end, 11 individuals were interested in hearing more from us in the future and learning about how they can help out and 1 student even offered to help out with the previously stalled weather balloon project. Further, an astronomy club is now in the works and we hope that it is successful in its endeavors.block-party2

I hope to have some information about the outreach activities at local schools soon!


Astronomers from Poznan Observatory, Poland visit the Schueller

Recently Astronomers Krystof and Monica Kaminsky of the Poznan Observatory visited UMass Lowell. They spent the day at LoCSST and the Physics department, and presented a talk on their Global Astrophysical Telescope System (GATS).  We hope to collaborate the them in this project using the Schueller Telescope.

In the evening the Kaminskys along with guests including Dean of Sciences Mark Hines, and Assoc. Dean Supriya Chakrabarti, toured the Scheuller Observatory with Prof. Laycock, and enjoyed a dinner given by Susan Schueller in her lovely home.


Profs. Kaminsky & Kaminsky measure the surface motions of nearby stars using   telescopes equipped with high-resolution fiber-fed spectrographs, that they and their team designed and built.  Believe it or not, many (perhaps all to some degree)  stars (including our Sun) pulsate or vibrate constantly. By exploiting the doppler-effect the Kaminskys’ spectrographs are able to measure the velocity of the star’s surface as it pulsates. Many different pulsation modes can exist in a star simultaneously, (just like the vibrational modes of a violin or a guitar) and these vibrations reveal the interior structure of the star!

It turns out that a telescope at a single site can never capture a complete picture of the vibrations, which span a huge range of timescales, because a star is only really observable for about 3 hours as it  passes though the clean clear zenith region of the sky above our heads. The Kaminskys’ solution is to put spectrographs in different time zones at similar  latitude so a single star can be observed continuously for many hours.  The Schueller observatory is located 5 hours West of Poznan, and 3 hours East of Arizona where the other telescope is located – plugging a big hole in the coverage zone.

The Kaminskys seemed impressed with the Schueller observatory and recommended that we invest in an automatic opener, and pursue remote operation, which has been the key to making their own observatories so productive. After that, we will work together to build a radial velocity spectrograph following their design. – And start taking the pulse of the stars!