Contemplating the Cosmos
Liana Simpson ’18 has high hopes for the newly restarted Astronomy Club
According to the NASA website, “The universe is a big, big place.” The sun, our nearest star, is 93 million miles away, and the next closest galaxy to the Milky Way is 2.5 million light years away. Yet each week, the Astronomy Club makes the universe seem a whole lot closer.
Inside the giant white dome that towers over the Science Complex, the newly restarted club meets each Tuesday at 5 p.m. Liana Simpson ’18 presides over the meetings as president. Simpson comes to Brandeis from her home in Northern California, currently triple-majoring in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy.
A few years ago, the Astronomy Club at Brandeis began to fizzle out. However former President Isaac Steinberg ’15 didn’t want to let that happen. “I just got an email one day; it’s literally that simple,” Simpson said in an interview with the Justice. In his email, Steinberg was calling out for someone to restart the club. It turned out Simpson was exactly who he was looking for.
“I decided that I should put my name into the ring because if no one took it up, that would be really sad. We have so much awesome equipment; it would be really disappointing if there was no way to access it,” Simpson said.
Simpson believes her interest in astronomy has two possible catalysts. Both come from her high school experiences with science.
At her high school, Simpson was a part of a group of students who sent their science experiments into space. Simpson explained, “They were relatively simple experiments, but we, as students, bought a little space for a science experiment on the International Space Station. And they provided us with power, and we just sort of performed tests where the variable was microgravity.”
Physics was also a major influence in Simpson’s foray into the universe. The subject itself first gained Simpson’s attention when she took AP Physics in high school. “It was terrible. It broke me down. But knowing it was one of the things I needed to work on most, I just sort of fell in love with it … and decided to pursue it in college,” Simpson explained.
After college, she is considering entering into academica. She wants to ensure that science is an inclusive field where everyone can feel welcome. “I’m very interested in science being open to people who don’t normally study science, or inclusivity for all races and genders in science fields. I might do some sort of advocacy.”
This goal is similar to her ideas for the Astronomy Club moving forward. “I would just like to make it a nice space to be where everything is relatively judgement free,” Simpson said. She hopes that students don’t feel pressured to be heavily involved in science to come to the club meetings. But that being said, she also wants those who are passionate about astrophysics to come to the club to share their excitement. “It can be a central gathering place for people who are interested in what studying space can give us,” Simpson asserted.
Besides weekly meetings, the club also hosts weekly viewings on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. They also have one large weekend viewing every other Saturday at 8 p.m. At the viewings, participants can take turns looking through the telescopes available to the club. They have access to a 24” Cassegrain reflector telescope, which is very large, and multiple people are often recruited to position it. “Usually I enlist one other person in helping me. They will go under the telescope and hold it up with their hands and be like Atlas, and I’ll be looking through the eyepiece.” Simpson laughed, “It’s an endeavor; it's really heavy.”
Most recently, the club looked at the Ring Nebula, and they were able to differentiate several colors in their viewing. According to Simpson, the red areas they looked at meant there was a large cloud of free hydrogen. The red color also indicated the area was a star-forming region.
At each viewing, around 30 students will make it to the observatory. To summarize the club’s use of the observatory, Simpson says students “use the space to hangout, think, talk and, of course, look at stars.”