Pictured is Kepler-11, home to six exoplanets. Photo provided/ NASA/Tim Pyle
If you haven’t taken advantage of the excellent exhibition, NASA’s Discover Exoplanets at the Cottage Grove Public Library yet, time is slipping through your fingers.
It will be at the Cottage Grove Library through April 20. And it’s not just the exhibit itself, there are all sorts of activities connected to Exoplanets culminating in a big costume and dance party that will be ”out of this world.”
But before we get the telescope before the star, just what is an exoplanet?
When I was a kid in school we were very excited about studying the nine planets that orbit our sun. This was heightened by the space race of trying to beat the Russians to the moon. I can clearly remember those first artist’s conceptions of the Apollo capsule and moon lander in my Weekly Reader.
And growing up in Florida, we were even more connected since the rockets were blasting off over at Cape Canaveral (then called Cape Kennedy in honor of JFK). We got to watch the shots on black and white TVs teachers brought in so we could watch history in the making. Hard to believe we will have the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic step for a man this July.
Well since that time, Pluto was voted out of the planet club and starting in 1995 astronomers have been finding planets that orbit other stars in our galaxy.
An exoplanet is a planet that is orbiting a star that is not our sun. Considering that the closest star system to us, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away (25,280,000,000,000 Earth miles) finding a planet that far away and beyond seems no easy task.
The bright glare of the star is enough to obscure a direct observation of a far-away planet so astronomers turned to other clues. The first exoplanet discovered was a huge gas giant that pulled on its sun so much that it caused it to wobble enough to be noticed. Others were soon discovered in this way.
But that ruled out smaller Earth-sized planets so in 2009 NASA launched the Kepler space telescope that uses a different strategy to hunt exoplanets. When a planet passes across or transits the star, its light dims slightly, Kepler can detect this slight dimming and pick out tiny rocky planets.
One of the main interests is locating such planets that orbit in the ”sweet zone” such as Earth where life could be supported.
In speaking with Cottage Grove Library Director Pete Barrell, he emphasized that this is another museum quality display brought in for the community to enjoy and learn from.
”We want to continue to provide rich experiences for our community members to expand their education while having fun,” Barrell said. ”The interactive touchscreens included in the exhibit have been quite a hit with the kids. We also are having activities that promote STEM and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) to the exhibit.”
The NASA exhibit will show you many fascinating details about what has been discovered in this hunt for worlds outside our own solar system. It will be in residence at the Cottage Grove Library until April 20, then blasts off for its next mission.
You might want to connect your voyage to the exoplanets to one of the many other activities that accompany the exhibit. On all Wednesdays 3 to 5 p.m. it is the Exoplanet Film Festival, next up is the ”Wall-E” film on March 27. There is a Wisdom Seekers Exoplanet Discussion, the next day, March 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. and everyone is welcome.
And to prepare the send off of the exoplanets, there is the big costume party and dance on Saturday April 13, 5 to 8 p.m. where you are invited to come as your favorite alien or planet.
There will be a workshop to help make your costume for the dance on Monday March 25, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Cottage Grove Community Center, 700 E. Gibbs Ave.
Let’s get out of our orbit for this one!
For more information check out the Cottage Grove Public Library’s website: cottagegrove.org/library/page/discover-exoplanets-new-exhibit-nasa or give them a call 541-942-3828.
Set your warp speed for interplanetary exploration mode and head down to space central Cottage Grove for an other-worldly experience!
Dana Merryday can be contacted at 541-942-7037 or by emailing [email protected].