Friday’s Astronomy Festival hails planets above and history’s stars

Dean Howarth, a physics teacher from McLean High School. Here he portrays 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe at the USA Science Festival. He will reprise his role on Friday at the Astronomy Festival.  (Courtesy Dean Howarth)

Dean Howarth, a physics teacher from McLean High School. Here he portrays 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe at the USA Science Festival. He will reprise his role on Friday at the Astronomy Festival. (Courtesy Dean Howarth)

The pageantry of heaven unfolds Friday afternoon into the night, as the northeastern grounds of the Washington Monument becomes filled with telescopes, binoculars and cosmic cheer. It’s the fifth annual Astronomy Festival on the National Mall, from 6 – 11 p.m., at the corner of 15th St. NW and Constitution Ave. (across Constitution Ave. from The Ellipse). The event is free.

“My goal is to bring science directly to the people,” says Donald Lubowich, astronomy outreach coordinator, Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y., who organizes this yearly event.

Link: Festival official web site

In the fashion of star party, astronomers from many Washington area groups – the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, the National Capital Astronomers, the U.S. Naval Observatory, the Goddard Astronomy Club, the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt – will put a plethora of telescopes on the Mall and invite casual sky gazers to see Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, the moon and deep sky objects.

See the sun, too. Specially filtered telescopes allow gazers to safely see the sun like you’ve never seen it before. Lubowich says there will be a half-dozen solar telescopes. (Never look at the sun through a standard telescope or binoculars. You will go blind.  But in this venue, gazers do so safely.)

Kerry Smith from the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers will bring his IBT – that would be the Itty Bitty Telescope – and demonstrate how home-based radio astronomers use handcrafted, easy-to-obtain materials to examine the heavens for radio emissions.

While Astronomy Festival-goers move between telescopes, history arises as famed astronomers Caroline Herschel, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler – science luminaries from centuries gone-by – roam the grounds. Lynn King, an astronomer from Wilmington, Del., portrays Herschel (1750-1848), noted for her comet discoveries, was the sister of composer-astronomer William Herschel.

Dean Howarth, physics teacher at McLean High School in Fairfax County, plays astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), while Jeff Jones, physics teacher at Mountain View Alternative High School, in Centreville, depicts German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).

Howarth, who runs a living history program with his students, explains the importance remembering the past. “[Science students] can benefit from understanding the human and historical sides of the story. I’ve always included that in my teaching. … Teaching science is all the more exciting when you can bring the fundamentals ‘to life,’” says Howarth. “I think Ben Franklin, Archimedes, Curie, Kepler and Brahe would agree that science, technology, engineering and math have been pretty important for all of history.”

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