March 11, 2009

Amazing Images of Space Part of Special Public Viewing Nights, Lectures as SSU Celebrates the International Year of Astronomy

Fermi spacecraftIn celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first use of a telescope to view the skies, Sonoma State University is joining a worldwide event consisting of a wide range of public outreach activities.

The event - dubbed "100 Hours of Astronomy" - takes place around the world from April 2-5. Included will be live science center events, research observatory web casts and sidewalk astronomy events. SSU's participation in the international outreach effort will include two lectures, and a Public Viewing Night at the SSU Observatory.

In addition, SSU's NASA-funded robotic observatory will be the star of part of the "100 Hours" activities taking place on April 2 at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

One of the key goals of "100 Hours of Astronomy" is to have as many people as possible look through a telescope as Galileo did for the first time 400 years ago.

The "100 Hours" is part of the year-long celebration of the "International Year of Astronomy" (IYA) honoring Galileo's contributions. As part of the celebration, SSU will also host "From Earth to the Universe" - a display of magnificent large-scale astronomical images - on campus from March 21-April 6.

Award-winning UC Berkeley Professor Alex Filippenko presents a free public lecture entitled "Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe" on Saturday, April 4 at 4 p.m. in Warren Auditorium.

Professor Filippenko is the 2004 recipient of the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization, as well as being named the 2006 US Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

He is known for his dynamic lectures, as well as his contributions to the discovery of dark energy, a mysterious force which is accelerating of the expansion of the Universe.

Eagle  Nebula"From Earth to the Universe" (FETTU) is a worldwide exhibit designed to bring the undeniable beauty of astronomy to the general public throughout the world.

The San Francisco Bay Area FETTU exhibits are sponsored by the Lunar Science Institute at the NASA Ames Research Center and SSU's Education and Public Outreach group, under the direction of Professor Lynn Cominsky, Chair of the Physics and Astronomy department.

"We are just thrilled to be able to bring FETTU to the North Bay, and hope that the community will be able to see these amazing images while they are here on campus" says Cominsky.

With images taken from both ground and space-based telescopes, FETTU showcases the incredible variety of astronomical objects that are known to exist: planets, comets, stars, nebulae, galaxies, clusters, and more.

With short but informative captions on each panel, (in both English and Spanish) the goal is to introduce some basics of the science once an individual has been drawn to the image.

FETTU will debut on the SSU campus on Seawolf Day, Saturday, March 21, when thousands of prospective SSU students and their parents will be visiting. Afterwards, the FETTU images will be on display in either the Darwin Hall Lobby or in the Schulz Library.

Other special events at SSU for the International Year of Astronomy include:

Lynn  CominskyDr. Lynn Cominsky's "What Physicists Do" lecture will explain new results from the most sensitive gamma-ray telescope ever flown, "Exploring the Extreme Universe with Fermi" on Mon., March 23 at 4 p.m. in Darwin 103.

On Thursday, April 2 from 6-10 p.m, Dr. Kevin McLin of the SSU Education and Public Outreach Group will operate GORT, SSU's NASA-funded robotic telescope.

GORT is generally used to take images in support of NASA's Fermi, Swift and XMM-Newton missions, but as part of the "100 Hours" outreach event, the telescope will be showcased for the public, with remote observing from the California Academy of Sciences, located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Additional telescopes will be available outside the Academy for viewing the Moon and Saturn. GORT's sensitive CCD detector and dark sky location will enable it to view much fainter deep sky objects and display them on a computer screen.

As part of the "100 Hours of Astronomy" there is a free public viewing night at the Sonoma State University Observatory, on Friday, April 3 from 9 to 11 p.m.

The public is welcome to join professional and amateur astronomers as they observe Saturn and the Moon, as part of a worldwide event. This special viewing night was timed to align with the Moon shifting from its new moon to gibbous phase, the ideal time for early evening observations.

As part of the long and distinguished public colloquium series, "What Physicists Do," Dr. Jodi Cooley of Stanford University lectures on the mysterious dark matter in the universe. Her lecture is entitled "Whispers in the Dark" and takes place Monday, April 6 at 4 p.m. in Darwin 103.

For more information on FETTU, visit

For more information on the International Year of Astronomy, visit


TOP, The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope will open the high-energy world of space to exploration.

MIDDLE, Eagle Nebula.

BOTTOM, SSU physics and astronomy professor Lynn Cominsky.

Jean Wasp
Media Relations Coordinator
University Affairs
(707) 664-2057