Former Planetarium Director Receives Award

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[Retired planetarium director Craig Robinson (left) receives award]

Generations of Connecticut school children received their introduction to the night sky thanks to Craig Robinson’s enthusiastic live shows in the Copernican Planetarium at CCSU. For over three decades, Craig worked closely with faculty, staff, students, and teachers to make sure that the planetarium fulfilled its dual role of educating and entertaining the citizens of Connecticut. Craig also introduced and developed most of the programs we use on a regular basis for planetarium shows, as well as hands-on activities and workshops, each effectively focusing and following curricula designated for specific age/grade-ranges. With the help of Craig’s exuberant personality and consummate showmanship, the planetarium has had numerous groups become repeat-visitors. As a result the planetarium’s audience and reach dramatically increased during Craig’s tenure at CCSU. The planetarium staff and volunteer population has also seen dramatic increases in size and diversity as a result of Craig’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life. Craig has truly made it his life’s work to bring the heavens down to earth. We are happy to announce that on May 15, 2019, Craig was received the Astronomer of the Year award from the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford, in recognition of his tireless work for the citizens of Connecticut.

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Planets on Parade in Predawn Sky

[Diagram of the predawn planetary parade, courtesy of EarthSky]

Those of you who are early risers have been treated to a predawn planetary parade over the past few weeks. From left to right, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are all visible in the southeast sky right before dawn, with the bright stars Antares (reddish) and Spica (whitish) completing the formation. If you’d like a challenge, try spying Mercury and a VERY old waning crescent moon low in the sky before dawn on April 2. No fooling!

Get Your Boots on and View Boötes

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[Using the Big Dipper to find Boötes]

New Englanders love their seasons, but early spring (when the snow melts) can be particularly muddy, giving birth to the unofficial fifth season called “Mud Season.” When the skies are clear in the spring, there are a number of bright stars and famous constellations that are well-placed for viewing in the evening sky, including Boötes the Herdsman or Wagoner. Sometimes referred to as kite-shaped, I prefer thinking of it as an ice cream cone (can’t wait for Dairy Queen to open up for the season I guess). The brightest star, Arcturus, is an orange giant star many times the size of our own sun. The fourth overall brightest star in the nighttime sky (second brightest seen from northern latitudes), it is not only visible during the day with a telescope, but has also been spotted by those with particularly keen eyes! The trick to identifying Arcturus is to follow the curve or arc of the handle of the Big Dipper and “Arc to Arcturus.”

Arcturus also shows up in science fiction and fantasy, for example the 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay. J.R.R. Tolkien gave it the name Morwinyon – “glint in the dusk” in Elvish – in his early Middle-earth mythology. So pull on your boots, brave the mud, and take the time to make your own voyage to Arcturus this Spring.

 

 

CCSU Astronomer Featured at Two Tolkien Conferences This Week

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CCSU Astronomy Professor Kristine Larsen, whose work on Tolkien and Astronomy has been widely referenced online (including in The Atlantic, io9, Tolkien Gateway, The Mary Sue, The One Ring, Introductions Necessary, A Single Leaf, Science Blogs, among others), is one of the featured speakers at two sold-out Tolkien symposiums this coming weekend in New York City. The first is Tolkien and Inspiration at the Morgan Library and Museum (in concert with their exhibition Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth),  where her talk will be “’And Menelmacar with his shining belt’: J.R.R. Tolkien the Amateur Astronomer.”  The second is the New York Tolkien Conference at Baruch College, where her talk is “‘I am Primarily a Scientific Philologist’: Tolkien and the Science/Technology Divide.” She will also take part in a panel discussion on Teaching Tolkien, and describe her experiences teaching a course in the Science of Middle-earth for First Year students.