Students With Common Curiosity Leads to Looking Toward the Stars

A clear 60 degree September night with a full moon: an almost perfect setting for a Cosmic Club meeting as members eagerly walked to the outskirts of the SUNY New Paltz campus to take a look at the starry skies.

Vice President of the club, Cooper Mulderry, a fourth-year theatre major, said the club is still gaining momentum and members, with 24 students at their general interest meeting.

“I’ve always been into science and physics,” Mulderry said. “I wanted to check it out and be one of the first people to be in the [club].”.

At regular meetings they talk about astronomy news, Mulderry said. If the weather is clear, they head over to the planetarium. There, they use several telescopes to find constellations, stars and planets.

With their new state-of-the-art digital planetarium projector at the campus’ John R. Kirk Planetarium, visitors are able to fly through space and view planets, nebulas, star clusters and other objects in close detail, according to the department’s website.

Director of the John R. Kirk Planetarium, Raj Pandya, lectures in physics and serves as the faculty advisor for the club. Pandya said he gets just as excited about discovering the stars through the equipment as the students do.

The club is only two years old, and the equipment is even newer, Pandya said. It allowsfor close viewing of planets and the portrayal of consolation artwork.

“My favorite aspect [of the new projector] is being able to zoom in on a planet,” Pandya said. “In the old system all you would see is little points of light.”

Pandya said that this equipment allows for more in-depth discovery.

“I think it’s cool that we can explain what’s happening in the universe, things that are very far away with laws and fundamental concepts that we see here on Earth,” Pandya said. “It’s all the same physics. It’s all the same math. You’re using it to figure out something that is very, very far away from you.”

The club’s president, third-year Steven Spreitzer, said the club attracts a diverse array of students – theatre majors to physics majors. He’s a geology major, himself.

“The club is open to anyone, you don’t have to be an astronomy major,” Spreitzer said. “You get a pretty good mix of people who just want to look at the stars.”

Spreitzer pointed at the sky with a green laser pointer, showing the group where the big dipper was. The group shut out the street light in order to get a better look at the sky, lining up to take a peek at different worlds through the telescopes at the Smolen Observatory.

Third-year geology major  and first-time Cosmic Club attendee, John Carey, said there was a lot of interesting information students can take away from  the club’s meetings.

“There’s so much to learn about, there’s all different kinds of [stars] and planets,” Carey said. “People don’t realize there is a lot you can see through a telescope.”

There are free public astronomy shows on Oct. 3 and 17, and private shows are available by appointment and cost $3.50 per person by check only.