WORTHINGTON — This weekend, astronomy enthusiasts across Minnesota will observe a statewide star party, and one of the approximately 30 star party events will take place at the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community & Technical College.
Paul Seifert, the Minnesota West physics and astronomy instructor taking the lead on the local star party, explained that the statewide effort is sponsored by the Bell Museum on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota.
Part of the reason this weekend was selected, Seifert said, is there will occur on Monday morning an astronomical phenomenon called a transit — "Mercury is going to appear to move across the face of the sun from our point of view on earth." For this reason, some of the star parties will happen on Monday. However, that timing makes a public event impractical, so Seifert will settle for showing the transit to his students during class.
In honor of the 2019 semicentennial anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, the theme of the star party is "Celebrate the Moon and Beyond." Weekend star party-goers will be able to look through telescopes set up near the Minnesota West softball fields and see the moon, Jupiter, Saturn (which Seifert said by itself makes the event worth attending), the Andromeda Galaxy and certain star clusters. Seifert will help everyone identify each celestial object.
If Friday night brings a cloudy sky, the party will still go on but move indoors. Seifert will use Google Expeditions — a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality that Seifert described as "a modern take on a View-Master, but cooler" — to explore 360-degree views of the sky.
Regardless of weather, the star party will offer kids' activities inside in the commons area, including coloring pages and stories read by English faculty member Gillian Singler. Supplies for the kids' activities are provided by the Bell Museum.
Although the party ranges from 6 to 9 p.m., Seifert said it's an open event, so people may come and go as convenient for them. It's free to attend, and all ages are welcome. Seifert reminds everyone interested in using the telescopes to dress warmly.