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Photo of society members practicing solar tracking

Looking Up: Galilean Society Brings Heavens to Earth

By Stephanie McKinley

Benjamin Ponce is hooked on astronomy.

The president of the Galilean Society, SUNY Plattsburgh’s astronomy club, took a trip to the International Planetarium Society Conference this summer. There, he and the club’s Acting Vice President Levi Martinez saw presentations on the discovery of the Higgs boson, exo-planet exploration and the use of planetariums in subjects besides astronomy.

“I never thought that being a planetarium director would be a career path that would intrigue me, but, after seeing the passions that everyone there had for astronomy, I now can’t wait to begin work in our planetarium once it is back after renovation,” Ponce said.

The conference trip was one of many Galilean Society activities this year, including trips to other conferences. In fact, the club has been so active, it was named the Best New Club at the Spring 2012 Student Association Clubs and Organization Banquet.

Viewing Venus

Photo of Venus transit

Venus transit as seen from Hawaii.

On another trip this past summer, Ponce and Martinez headed to Hawaii to view what is considered one of the rarest predictable visible planetary configurations, according to faculty club adviser and physics lecturer Lisabeth Kissner.

They went to observe the Venus transit — an event in which Venus passes directly between the sun and the Earth. This transit has only occurred seven times since the invention of the telescope and will not be seen again until more than 100 years from now, in 2117.

The two were able to record nearly the entire event, thanks to the club’s new equipment and Hawaii’s nearly cloudless sky.

They didn’t take the trip for granted, however.

“When the idea to go to Hawaii for the transit was first brought up in conversation, I honestly didn’t think there was a chance that it was going to happen. It showed me a lot about how hard work pays off and just how great our college is that it would support something like this,” Ponce said.

The transit may be over, but the society’s work on this project is not. The group is preparing to share its observations at the school’s Sigma Xi conference and hopes to share them again at the Middle Atlantic Planetarium Society conference in 2013.

The first of their presentations on the transit will take place at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, in Room 105, Beaumont Hall.

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Three on the summit of Mt. Mauna Kea

Levi Martinez, Lisabeth Kissner and Benjamin Ponce on the summit of Mount Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

While Ponce and Martinez were in Hawaii, Benjamin Schultz — another club officer — was at the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket, Mass., doing an internship with the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, where he studied blasars — extremely powerful quasars that put off a lot of radiation.

The REU internship is a competitive one and will likely result in Schultz being able to present his research at the American Astronomical Society, according to Kissner.

Ladies Looking Up

Club members are not just learning about astronomy. They are teaching others about it.

For instance, they are reaching out to help girls become engaged in science through Ladies Looking Up. This program offers workshops about space, encouraging girls to pursue careers in the sciences.

Kissner and Linda Stephan, a representative for the Girl Scouts, are in the process of arranging afternoon and evening sessions for this fall and overnight encampments in late spring. Their first scout workshop, “Rocks from Space,” will be held Saturday, Oct. 13, at Camp Tapawingo in Speculator, N.Y.

Meanwhile, Martinez, who would like to teach high school or college physics, is looking forward to gaining experience that will be useful later in life.

He said that time spent working with Ladies Looking Up will “prepare me for classroom and time management, content creation and delivery, among other things. This experience … will help create a solid foundation from which I can jump start my career as an educator.”

Photo of Stephanie McKinleyStephanie McKinley is a student at SUNY Plattsburgh double majoring in English language arts and literature and minoring in business. She is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the national academic honor society, and Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, and has won various awards from the college including the Earl Harlan Award in English and the Award for Excellence in the Composition Essay.


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