COC Star Party Focused on Finding New Planets in Our Galaxy

| Canyon Country Magazine | October 1, 2013

College of the Canyons will join the scientific search for new Earth-sized planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy, during the Canyon Country campus’ fall Star Party on Friday, Oct. 11.

During the event, attendees will have the opportunity to view the night sky while interacting with NASA research astronomer Dr. Natalie Batalha, who will deliver the presentation “Beyond the Cradle: Kepler’s Search for New Worlds” related to her work as deputy science team lead for the ongoing Kepler Mission.

“The Star Parties are a wonderful occasion to showcase the beautiful Canyon Country campus while welcoming a great turnout of students, staff, and community friends,” said Dr. Ryan Theule, Dean of the Canyon Country campus. “Attendees always delight in the opportunity to look through the telescopes on display while learning more about the universe from our featured guest speakers.”

Charged with the task of satisfying humankind’s ongoing speculation about the existence of far away planets similar to our own, the NASA Kepler spacecraft mission launched in March 2009.

As NASA’s first mission capable of locating worlds similar in size to Earth, the Kepler spacecraft is performing a continuing census of previously undiscovered planets orbiting stars throughout the vastness of the Milky Way.


To date, the mission team has discovered more than 3,500 planet candidates, hundreds of which are earth-size, hinting that nature has the ability to efficiently produce small planets.

Dr. Batalha

During her presentation, Dr. Batalha will describe the techniques used to identify potential new planets, while highlighting some of Kepler’s most significant milestone discoveries.

Other activities will include several astronomy related experiment tables and a unique hands-on audience activity emphasizing key elements of the local K-12 astronomy and science curriculum. COC professor Teresa Ciardi will lead the activity, utilizing children in the audience to complete a scale model of our solar system and two Kepler “solar” systems.

Members of the college’s Astronomy and Physics Club as well as the local Astronomy Clubs of Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley will be in attendance with telescopes that attendees can use to view the night sky.

The fall Star Party will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, in the Canyon Country campus’ Carl A. Rasmussen Amphitheater. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.

Though some seating will be provided, Star Party attendees are encouraged to get to campus early with blankets, lawn chairs and picnic baskets, to enjoy a festive outdoor atmosphere as the sun begins to set and the night sky emerges.

Food and beverages will also be available for purchase at the event through the on-campus Canyons Café. A portion of the concession sales from the Star Party are being donated to the Dr. Ram Manvi Memorial Scholarship to benefit students who are majoring in the fields of mathematics, science or engineering technology.

Dr. Manvi was the former Dean of Math, Science and Engineering at College of the Canyons and was instrumental in launching the campus’ initial Star Party event in 2009.

More About the Speaker

Dr. Natalie Batalha is a research astronomer in the Space Sciences Division of NASA Ames Research Center and the Kepler Mission Scientist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a doctorate in astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz.

Batalha started her career as a stellar spectroscopist studying young, sun-like stars. After a post-doctoral fellowship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she returned to California.

Inspired by the growing number of exoplanet discoveries, she joined the team led by William Borucki at NASA’s Ames Research Center working on transit photometry — an emerging technology for finding exoplanets.

Today, she and the Kepler team stand poised to make discoveries that humans, prior, have left to the imagination and the realms of science fiction.

For more information about the College of the Canyons fall 2013 Star Party, please call the Canyon Country campus at (661) 362-3801.

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