Aspiring astronomers could have the world at their fingertips during the College of the Canyons Canyon Country Campus’ semiannual Star Party on Friday night.
COC’s STEM-based programs and clubs had activities for the next generation of astronomers, such as making slime and coloring rocket ships, while astronomer and new COC instructor Michaela Blain helped people of all ages look through high-powered telescopes — which allowed curious attendees to view either Saturn or Jupiter and three of its moons at a distance.
“This is my first Star Party with the college, so I’m very excited. It’s my absolute favorite to help people look through the telescopes and answer questions, along with engaging with people,” Blain said.
Blain has been inspired by astronomy since she was 4 after visiting Griffith Observatory with her family.
“My dad and brother and I would go on little family dates, so we went to Griffith Observatory. This was before I could read, but I got to look at the moon through the telescope. When we came home, he read the dictionary entry for supernova — I couldn’t read yet. So I’ve loved astronomy for a long time,” Blain said.
Going on to turn her passion for astronomy into a career, where Blain pursued a master’s degree in astronomy in Maryland and studied comets closely, she found that she loved teaching and wanted to clarify astronomical jargon for students.
“Teaching has been a great fit so far. A common misconception people tend to have about astronomy is that stars and planets are the same thing. But they’re not, they’re different,” Blain said. “I think astronomy is really uniquely positioned amongst the sciences, because I think everybody’s at least a little bit curious about it and really enjoys studying it.”
Friday’s event boasted guest speaker Varoujan Gorjian, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory research astronomer who obtained his undergraduate degree in astronomy at Caltech in 1992 and his doctorate at UCLA in 1998, according to the event program. In addition, his research entails black holes and planets orbiting stars.
Gorjian discussed his experience in JPL in the college’s new amphitheater, as well as taught the audience new concepts, such as the difference between a jet and rocket.
He also discussed his dream of becoming an astronaut, but how scarce the opportunity of having his dream realized really is.
“In this astronomy magazine for kids, I read that to become an astronaut, you can either become a pilot — this was a shuttle era, so there were people who were flying the shuttle. So you needed at least 10,000 hours of high-performance jet flying experience, or you could become a scientist, engineer or doctor,” Gorjian said to the audience.
While Gorjian took the latter route and the steps necessary overall to have a shot at flying to space, he stated his eyesight fell short of what was required at the time.
“The statistics are ridiculous. Once you sort of look into that, planning on becoming an astronaut, you have a better chance of becoming an NBA All-Star than becoming an astronaut. So you can’t just actually plan on it,” Gorjian said. “You have to plan on doing something you really like, and then along the way you can apply to become an astronaut if you want to.”
Ryan Theule, vice president of the Canyon Country Campus, discussed the gathering of the community during the fall and spring semesters’ Star Party.
“This event is a chance to bring in a bunch of community members, students and interested parties to engage with all that we show on campus. You have an opportunity to get up close and personal with some really interesting professors and researchers and ask them questions,” Theule said.
The campus has been open for 16 years, and is celebrating its 27th Star Party, according to Theule.
“Our goal behind this event and the reason we’ve done it for so many semesters and so many years is to bring in the community and let them see the amazing things that College of the Canyons is doing at the Canyon Country campus, and to also connect to our instructional offerings,” Theule said. “We’re continuing to refine the concept. Each year it gets a little bit bigger and a little bit more dynamic, and we’re really excited.”