Astronomy Night at the Peak returns April 1

By Tom Di Camillo
Director of Media & Community Events

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - Central Arizona College's Astronomy Night at the Peak returns to the Signal Peak Campus this Friday evening, April 1, when Dr. Wayne Pryor takes travelers on a Search for Other Earths.

In addition to Pryor's outdoor presentation, CAC's astronomy night will feature a look inside STARLAB with Katy Wilkins, along with a variety of new family-friendly events entitled Frozen Moo & You, Make Your Alien & Eat It Too, and Poisonous Insects and Creative Plants.

CAC and Sodexo, the food service provider for the college, again are teaming up to offer an evening of affordable family dining under the constellations of the Arizona nighttime sky.

Dinner will be served from 5-6 p.m., while the STARLAB presentations and family science events will run continuously from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Pryor's presentation on the Search for Other Earths will take place from approximately sundown until 9:30 p.m.

The new family-friendly science events will be held in the C. Leroy Hoyt Hall Science/Engineering Building (Building S). It is located adjacent to the astronomy viewing area.

Dixie Kullman, CAC's professor of human anatomy, physiology and microbiology, will coordinate the Frozen Moo & You and Make Your Alien & Eat It Too events.

"Participants will learn how to lower the freezing point of water and how ice cream forms as a solution freezes," she said of the naturally cool idea of frozen moo. "They may personalize their tasty treat to tantalize their taste buds. Travel to the observatory will propel their imagination to other worlds and the potential for frozen poles or perhaps frozen planets."

In making an alien, genetic cupcakes will foster imagination about the participant's heritage, exploring how humans are similar to one another and how they are different.

Marilyn Edelman, CAC's professor of general science, explores poisonous insects and creative plants that may seem otherworldly. Participants will get microscopic views of poisonous insects while also having the opportunity to send a friend a card or make a book mark using real plants.

Once darkness encompasses the Signal Peak Campus, guests will move to the observatory where the NASA telescopes will be open for terrific views of the sky for the rest of the evening. The telescopes include large reflectors with 24-inch and 14-inch diameter mirrors, plus an array of smaller telescopes used to view various celestial bodies.

The astronomy portion of the program will focus on NASA's Kepler Mission that was launched in 2009 and is searching for planets around other stars.

"We will discuss the recent detection of 1,235 possible planets, including some similar to Earth in size and temperature," Pryor explained.

According to NASA's webpage, the scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:

• Determine the abundance of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars;
• Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets;
• Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems;
• Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets;
• Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques; and
• Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems.

This marks the third of four Astronomy Night at the Peak events scheduled for the 2010-11 academic year with the final one slated for Friday, May 13.

"These events are always a lot of fun for us and for the community," Pryor stated. "It is a terrific family event that we offer at no charge. Children - and their parents - seem to really enjoy it."

While Pryor will be outside, Wilkins again will be inside with STARLAB, an inflatable planetarium that provides an indoor look at the Arizona nighttime sky.

Currently the dean of students at Toltec Middle School, Wilkins will set up STARLAB and offer her presentations inside M101 of the Student Services Center, the large building with the clock tower located on the Signal Peak Campus.

"My public presentations usually consist of some short stories and how to locate constellations and some other interesting facts," she said.

STARLAB was purchased when Central Arizona College's SEMAA (Science Engineering Mathematics Aerospace Academy) program was being offered on campus.

Before night falls, moms and dads are invited to bring the entire family for dinner at the Central Arizona College Dining Hall from 5-6 p.m. The dining hall is located on the second floor of the Mel A. Everingham Student Center adjacent to The Green near the entrance to the campus.

Dinner is $6 plus tax per person for everyone and is served buffet style. The menu includes hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, chicken nuggets, French fries, macaroni and cheese, a salad bar, self-serve ice cream and dessert stations, and a choice of beverages.

For more information on the Astronomy Night at the Peak event, please call 520-494-5202, or e-mail Tom Di Camillo at

Central Arizona College - District Office 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128 Phone: 800-237-9814