There’s more to nothing than meets the eye.
On Saturday Dec. 2, the ETSU Harry D. Powell Astronomical Observatory held an Open House. With the observatory almost always at capacity, the Department of Physics and Astronomy conducts Open House “Star Party” events for active students as well as the general public every few months throughout the year, for free.
Each session bears opportunities to gaze at planets, stars and nebulae to your heart’s content via an assortment of 9+ inch telescopes, as well as to hear an intriguing, accompanying lecture.
ETSU Physics professor Dr. Frank Hagelberg gave a talk entitled “On Nothing (How Empty is Empty Space?).” The lecture was designed to assess the matter of matter-less space.
Hagelberg said the idea behind space being empty is misleading. As it turns out, space is in fact teeming with all sorts of matter, even after everything we can scientifically possibly discern is removed. Upon perceiving galaxies, scientists have found that the existent mass vs. velocity just does not add up.
In a long-distance (meaning time and space) view of another galaxy, the centrifugal footprint suggests that something else is there and this something isn’t outright visible. This something has been dubbed dark matter, and it remains largely puzzling to physicists and astronomers alike. Physics’ response to this conundrum, according to Frank Hagelberg is, “The perfect vacuum exists neither at the largest nor at the smallest scale of nature.”
From 8 – 10 p.m., telescopes were pointed at objects such as Neptune, Uranus, the Andromeda Galaxy (or M31), a globular cluster (M2), the Orion Nebula (M42) and of course the moon. These events are often introductory sessions for amateur astronomers or otherwise enthusiasts who maybe have not had the chance to peek at the stars through a powerful telescope before. Returning students often attend in addition to experienced astronomers from the area.
“The main focus (of the event) is to share views through telescopes of the night sky, the outlines of constellations and all the types of objects,” said ETSU Astronomy/Physics professor Dr. Gary Henson. “It’s more than just looking in a book. We hope to explain what the objects are and what we understand overall about space and astronomy.”
The next Open House will be on Feb. 24, 2018, but in the meantime the Geminid meteor shower will be visible after the moon wanes as it peaks on Dec. 13-14.