“I hope that nobody gets hurt, that it’s a good time and that we don’t set the Nature Center on fire, which isn’t too much to ask, I don’t think,” said Curt Bagne, Troy senior and four-year Astronomy Club member, who, despite his reservations, is looking forward to the group’s new project.
Seeking to reinvigorate Albion’s long-standing Astronomy Club, group members plan to build and launch a rocket this spring to generate interest in Astronomy from fellow students and to host a few community observations.
According to Nicolle Zellner, associate professor of physics and adviser to the Astronomy Club since 2005, the Astronomy Club has been an active institution on campus since the early 1880s with the installment of the Alvin-Clarke telescope. Today, Albion College is home to six telescopes, Zellner says, and the Astronomy Club uses them to educate students, members and non-members about the night sky.
“We have, secretly, a really nice facility,” said Alex Bullen, Folsom, Calif., senior. “In the past I’ve been like, ‘Oh, I should learn constellations and things,’ and then I got the opportunity to, and it was really fun.”
During her tenure as club adviser, Zellner says she has overseen groups with varying levels of activeness, but, in the spirit of learning, she always tries to let members dictate the club’s direction.
“Honestly, I don’t do a lot,” Zellner said. “I think part of being at Albion College and being involved in a club is developing your own leadership skill and leadership style, so I don’t want to tell the students what they need to do. It’s really up to the club to figure out what its mojo is.”
Unfortunately, the club has experienced a decline of interest in the last few years, so its eight members are attempting to reestablish the group’s “mojo.”
Alysandra Ganem, Dearborn junior and club president, says that she wants the club to get into something beyond observing.
“As beautiful as it is up there, there’s only so much you can do with observations before people lose their attention,” Ganem said. “Personally, I don’t really see how you can get bored looking at Jupiter, but apparently you can, and so I really wanted to make this semester exciting for everybody, especially those who have been coming here for a couple years. So I figured we’d try something new, and what’s more fun than rockets?”
Beyond diversifying the experience for existing group members, Ganem, who is depending on the very human desire to see things explode, hopes that the rocket launch will garner to the group new interest from non-club students, because, she says, the club’s continuation is in danger.
“I’m hoping to attract more members to the club, especially from the freshmen and sophomores, because, as of right now, when I graduate there isn’t really going to be many people left here to take over as president, and I don’t really want to see the club die just because we could not get enough interest from the incoming classes,” Ganem said.
Bullen, a club member since his sophomore year, shares Ganem’s concern.
“I would just like to know it’s not going to fold in on itself because it’s pretty small, but we have some passionate people in the lower classes,” Bollen said. “More people should enjoy freezing their ass off on the roof.”
Dedicated to the club’s preservation, Zellner applauds the club’s efforts to generate fresh energy for the group.
“This club is not one of these fly-by-night clubs that is some student’s idea, and then that student graduates and the club disappears,” Zellner said. “This is a long term student organization, like the Pleiad, and it has some real longevity here on campus, so I want to make sure that momentum stays.”
Literally directing that momentum skyward, the rocket launch will be held as a community event sometime in April, Ganem says, so that potential observers won’t have to worry about the cold. The location of the launch is yet to be determined.
Such large events, Ganem says, are not impossible. With Zellner’s help, Ganem organized a community observation last summer for the transit of Venus. She says that nearly 100 people showed up, including families, professors and community members from as far as Jackson.
“I’d like to have word get out that were doing big, exciting things,” Ganem said.
Zellner and Ganem also want the club to get into more community service, such as offering observation education or making pin-hole constellations out of old film canisters for kids in the Albion school district.
“I think that’s a really nice way to reach out to the community and give some underrepresented groups a chance to see how cool science is,” Zellner said.
Ultimately, Ganem and her fellow club members just want to spread their passion for the stars.
“When we’re observing, it’s gorgeous,” Ganem said. “In this age of modern technology and everything being so fast-pace, it’s just this sense of calm and beauty in the sky. It’s almost like you can put yourself in the shoes of someone who lived a couple hundred years ago, and when you think about it, it’s like time traveling because the light that left those starts left a couple hundred years ago, in some cases, and that’s really cool!”
For further updates on the rocket launch, observing events or just cool stuff about Astronomy in general, check out the club’s Facebook page. Otherwise, just keep looking up.
Photo by Travis Trombley