By Jose Herrera
Signal Staff Writer
On a late night with clear skies, Santa Clarita Valley community members looked up toward the sky in search of secrets of the universe.
College of the Canyons hosted its Science Talk Star Party at its Canyon Country campus on Friday. Guest speaker Camilo Prada, manager of the High Contrast Imaging Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, presented his work developing space telescopes and COC students organized family-friendly activities.
“This is part of our Science Talk series. We’ve done a lot to showcase STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) excellence,” said Ryan Theule, vice president of the Canyon Country campus. “Tonight’s event was focused specifically on observations and looking for exoplanets.”
Attendees could listen to Prada’s presentation and also participate in various demonstrations or look through telescopes.
Prada presented “NASA’s Search for Planets, Habitability and Life in our Galaxy,” a 45-minute research presentation about NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program. The research focuses on NASA’s plans for the discovery and understanding of planetary systems around nearby stars.
As a member of the instruments division, Prada said he helps develop technology for coronagraph imaging systems, which are high-contrast imaging technology used to find exoplanets around nearby stars.
“In NASA, we are planning technology 20 years from now,” Prada said. “We have already lined up two or three space telescopes after JWST (James Web Space Telescope).”
He also clarified how the concepts of origami’s folding and usage of the full volume of an available space have inspired JPL because spacecraft are becoming bigger while rockets are the same.
“We have to fit this big instrument onto a small rocket,” Prada said. “They are new techniques like origami or what we call an in-space assembly. One instrument would break into smaller pieces, and we send them in several different rockets and then assemble it in space because it is way too big to send it in a single rocket.”
He said they are talking about technology 10 to 20 years into the future, but NASA is working on it right now because it takes time to develop, test and ensure the technology will work.
“We are enabling the instruments for science,” Prada said. “Coronagraphs are designed to look for small signals, and then tune up the signal for biomarkers. One question we are trying to solve is if we are alone in the galaxy. Other big questions relate to understanding black matter and black energy.”
Abigail Royster, president of the Associated Students government at the COC Canyon Country campus, said she and her fellow students helped with the star party by providing free pre-packaged snacks.
She added that she graduated in the spring of 2020 and, as a student of the pandemic who did most of her classes online, she was excited to see her peers and community.
“It is extremely important to me (to interact with other students across different disciplines),” Royster said. “I’ve met a wide range of students who are doing things that I can’t even dream of. It’s so insightful to meet students who are in other classrooms and to admire the world for what it is.”