On Friday, March 25, the Versant Power Astronomy Center at the University of Maine held their weekly public program for the month of March: “Unveiling the Invisible Universe.”
“‘Unveiling the Invisible Universe’ is our regular Friday evening public program for the month of March,” Shawn Laatsch said, the director of the astronomy center. “The program explores how astronomers use multi-wavelength tools to explore the cosmos. From infrared to gamma rays, light comes in many forms that are invisible to the human eye, but new technologies allow us to make observations revealing how astronomical objects form, go through evolution, and end.”
The shows start at 7 p.m. and runs for one hour. The planetarium follows standard UMaine’s COVID-19 guidelines.
The program’s themes change each month.
“In April our show will be ‘Black Holes,’ and in May it will be ‘Legends of the Northern Sky,’” Laatsch said.
Friday’s show covered the different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum and their crucial uses for astronomers to observe the night sky. It began with a short introduction of the electromagnetic spectrum and then launched into the video “Unveiling the Invisible Universe.” It hypnotized the crowd with dancing images of our vibrant galaxies.
We interact with light everyday. Our phones use microwaves as a form of radiation and television travels on radio waves. We cannot see this form of light. As the electromagnetic spectrum decreases in wavelength and increases in frequency, light such as gamma rays are dangerous to human exposure. The Earth’s atmosphere creates a shield from those dangerous forms of radiation, but for astronomers observing those radiations that are emitted by distant galaxies it is a hindrance.
“Many of the technologies we take for granted, from cell phones to numerous advanced materials, come from astronomy and space exploration,” Laatsch said.
One of those tools is the telescope. With our naked eye, the night sky looks like a black vast space with endless possibilities splattered with spots of white light. But, with the advancements in telescope technology, telescopes ranging from the handheld ones Galileo used all the way up to the massive telescopes located in remote deserts away from any light pollution allows researchers access to what’s in that black space. The Hubble Telescope, created in 1991, gave astronomers the ability to break through the protective atmospheric layer and provide society with the first images of the great blue marble: Earth.
“Planetarium programs share astronomy with the public from the latest research, to cultural ways people use the sky, to the latest space missions,” Laatsch said. “All of our programs include a tour of the night sky visible here in Maine with updates on the latest astronomy and space news.”
The planetarium shared news about the James Webb telescope, the predecessor of the Hubble telescope, and the images of distant space photographs that the public will be expected to see in late June and early July. This telescope takes its pictures in infrared light and is located 12.5 million light years away. One light year is equivalent to ten trillion kilometers.
The part of the show that was the most shocking was the view of the night sky through different waves of the spectrum. The image began with the classic night sky, but transitioned into a red, fiery blast of heat and then into a picture of indigo skies with a red streak breaking through the blue. The last photo was different shades of green as it was showing through different radiation waves the heat that is being emitted from distant stars. Stars emit all sorts of light frequencies, but some are stronger than others, which is why telescopes that can see through different wavelengths are important to the astronomy community.
The show ended with the image of the night sky and pointed out some of the winter constellations, for example Orion the Warrior and Taurus. The constellations were very close together and it looked like Orion was fighting the bull. It was an entertaining way of teaching the audience how to spot the stars in the sky and remember where they are located; a perfect lesson for kids and prospective space enthusiasts.
“This event is open to the public,” Laatsch said. “Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for UMaine students, senior citizens and veterans, and $5 for children 12 and under.”
For more information see their website, astro.umaine.edu, or their Facebook page at Facebook.com/JordanPlanetarium for details.