This article ran in the Florida Independent Alligator on Nov. 15.
On a cloudless night, Earthlings gathered to get a closer look at the universe.
More than 900 people attended Starry Night, an annual public stargazing event, on Friday to gaze through telescopes, attend a talk on planets outside our solar system and see exhibits set up inside the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“There’s something about the grandeur of the sky that gets people excited,” said Vicki Sarajedini, an associate professor of astronomy who helped plan the event.
It’s tough to get kids interested sometimes, she said, so Sarajedini broke out the glitter glue.
For the older crowd, there were telescopes that could focus on Jupiter so well that you could see the four Galilean moons as pinpoints of light next to the planet.
A meteorite owned by Santa Fe College that weighed over 70 pounds sat in a bed of sand inside the museum, surprising visitors with its weight.
A portable planetarium inflated to give a show on constellations. The show was so popular that free, seat-saving tickets ran out about an hour before some shows.
Children learned about black holes by building them. They used black plastic cups, CDs, pipe cleaners and glitter glue to illustrate the dark giant.
Scarlett Wanzo, 13, and her friends coated their black holes in sequins and glitter glue. The only place there was more glitter was wherever Edward Cullen worked, she joked, mocking the Twilight series.
Scarlett said she’s interested in astronomy, geology and chemistry.
“[I like] the creativity of it,” she said, “How you can find out new things abut the world around you.”
Sarajedini said that the public wants to know about astronomy, and she gets interesting questions every year.
Don Loftus, member of the Alachua Astronomy Club and a retired NASA employee, built his telescope with his son. It was made out of cyprus, a milk-chocolate-colored wood, and was polished so it gleamed.
“My wife didn’t want something that looks like a scientific instrument sitting in her living room,” he said.
Matthew Pasciucco, a freshman University of Florida student, said he’d never seen Jupiter before.
“Honestly, it’s pretty fun,” he said of the event.
Alison Klesman, an astronomy Ph.D. student, said astronomy is a field that a lot of people like because it has pictures. She said people identify with pictures more than concepts.
Also, she said the public doesn’t always get a chance to see space through high-powered telescopes.
“People don’t get a lot of access to do things like this,” she said.
A black hole made out of a plastic cup. The pipe cleaners represent the jets that are thought to stream out of the gravitational monster.