Stevens Society of Physics College students takes astronomy tenting journey – The Stute

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Although the remnants of Hurricane Ian ripped through the Northeast last weekend, a Stevens organization braved the weather on behalf of science. The Society of Physics Students (SPS) undertook their astronomy-based camping trip, which each semester serves as an opportunity for students of all disciplines and interests to observe the stars far from Hoboken’s light pollution.

Courtesy of Danny Martire

The group traveled to a campground in Wawayanda State Park, a nearly 35,000-acre nature preserve in North Jersey. While not entirely free from light pollution, the distance from New York’s bright lights offers a marked improvement in one’s ability to see the night sky. Last spring, SPS was also able to travel to Cherry Springs State Park, a true dark sky zone in Pennsylvania known as one of the best stargazing spots on the East Coast. Locations like Cherry Springs offer the chance to see the Aurora Borealis, the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, the ISS, and hundreds of constellations.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) estimates that only about 10% of Americans have seen truly dark skies like Cherry Springs that are completely free of light pollution. The IDA maintains a verified list of dark-sky communities, parks, and even urban areas that use responsible lighting methods that do not interfere with stargazing. Their goal of “safeguarding the night” for future generations relies on educating the public and policy makers on how to responsibly light our cities so more people can appreciate the night sky. SPS also pursues this goal, with higher-level physics students bringing telescopes and sharing their knowledge of astronomy with the rest of the group.

Despite the clouds over the past weekend, early October is usually good for lots of sky watching. Jupiter and Saturn remain visible early in the month forming a triangle with Fomalhaut, one of the brightest stars in the sky at the time. Distinguishing between planets and stars can be difficult, but stars appear to “twinkle” in the sky while planets do not. This is due to the great distance light from stars travels, making it much more affected by particles in the atmosphere than light from planets. The moon is also in the first quarter this year, an advantage for observing the sky as light from the moon can often itself serve as a source of light pollution.

The tradition of the astronomy camping trip has a long tradition at SPS and is very much appreciated in the club. Freshman Danny Martire says, “I had so much fun talking to people, learning about camping and living in the moment. Having no cell phone service instead of being a nuisance made it even more memorable.” The club also uses the camping trip as an opportunity to stimulate curiosity about astronomy at large and build a community of physics enthusiasts from all disciplines. Anastasia Pergament, the club’s president, said, “This camping trip is my favorite part of the fall semester. Each year new faces join to enjoy the beautiful fall hikes and learn about the stars from their peers studying astronomy. Hopefully everyone learned something new and made a new friend. These people come back every year.”