Astronomy Night draws thousands, mixes together music and science

Yvonne Kim, Reporter

Thousands of people braved cloudy skies and rainy weather Wednesday for Astronomy Night at the Ravinia Festival, which hosted family-friendly science activities and an astronomy-inspired orchestral concert.

The event was organized by Prof. Donald Lubowich (Weinberg ’70) — coordinator of astronomy outreach at Hofstra University — who received funding through Hofstra after coordinating two similar outreach events with a NASA grant in previous years. Lubowich said more than 5,000 people showed up to this year’s event.

“We want to … inform the public about science,” he said. “We want to inspire and engage children so they might consider a career in science, engineering, mathematics and … provide a family-friendly activity where they can learn about science in an unscripted way.”

At the event, children were able to observe astronomical images, learn about the phases of the moon and interact with various scientific displays. Telescopes were also available despite decreased visibility due to cloudy skies.

Sara Grady, editor and communications specialist at NU’s Science in Society center, conducted a crater demonstration for children using golf balls, sugar and flour.

She was one of nine graduate students and staff from SIS and NU’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics at the festival, along with science educators from the Boeing company.

“There’s a lot of things that expose kids to science, but the key is exposing it to them in a way that gets them excited,” said Kyle Kremer (Bienen ’12), a CIERA graduate student who volunteered at the event. “Astronomy is great for that because astronomy is very visually inspiring.”

But the science portion of the event, which Lubowich described as a “traveling science museum,” was not just intended for children.

“Looking at the rings of Saturn is an awesome sight for anybody,” Lubowich said. “A well-informed public is important because they pay for university research. The universities would be in a lot of trouble without government support and the public.”

Following about three hours of activities, the orchestral concert began at 8 p.m. and featured the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” alongside a video of vivid solar system images. It also included Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme song to “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“It’s very important to connect the arts and the sciences together because they both promote creativity and insightfulness,” said Michael Zevin, another CIERA graduate student who studied both music and science as an undergraduate. “Kids should be exposed to both to a pretty high level.”

Throughout the two-hour concert, the activity tent remained open to keep children engaged.

“Any time you’re interactive with the kids — or for yourself even — it makes it easier for the layman to learn and be excited,” said Eric Zoerb, a Glencoe resident and father of two young children. “It gets them interested in doing other things at home … so any time you’re hands-on, it’s awesome.”

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