Lawrence Hall of Science - Astronomy

Lawrence Hall of Science - Astronomy
Follow a steep road into California's Berkeley hills to find the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS). It's the public science center of the University of California Berkeley, and delights visitors of all ages with the wonders of science. A bonus is its spectacular panoramic view of San Francisco Bay.

Just below the Hall is the laboratory that Ernest O. Lawrence founded, now called the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Both institutions are named for the Nobel laureate who invented the cyclotron, once popularly known as an atom smasher. A cyclotron is a circular apparatus that accelerates atomic particles to high velocities, and Lawrence's invention laid the foundation for the study of high energy physics.

The Hall of Science has exhibits and activities on site that are available to visitors and to school groups. In addition, it provides a variety of curriculum materials and professional development for teachers. Among the areas of science presented are environment, mathematics, robotics and – not surprisingly for California – seismology, the study of earthquakes. However this article focuses on astronomy.

Come and look
The plaza of the Lawrence Hall of Science is an open space well above the city lights of Berkeley with a good sky view. LHS used to hold monthly stargazing evenings there, but those have been discontinued. Nonetheless they encourage people to make use of the site and bring binoculars and telescopes, and friends and family to have a look.

Star wheels
If you want to do some sky watching, how do you know what's visible in the heavens above you? A useful tool is a planisphere, sometimes known as a star wheel. Planispheres are designed for a range of latitudes and the LHS website has a a number of downloadable templates to make your own star wheel for wherever you live. Some of them were created in a LHS project.

A planisphere has an outer section with time on it and an inner rotating disk with the months and a sky map on it. Lining up the date and time on the two parts, you can see what's above the horizon in your location at the chosen time. As in a normal star map, constellations near the horizon are closer to the edge of the map, and those high in the sky are near the center of the disk.

(Click underneath this article on Post Your Thoughts to go to the Bellaonline Astronomy Forum thread with further information and useful links.)

Sunstones II
A splendid sculpture has echoes of distant times and places where stones were used as sight lines to astronomical objects, marking the seasons of the year. The 18-foot granite sculpture Sunstones II was created by artist Richard O'Hanlon and astronomer David Cudaback, and installed in the grounds of the Lawrence Hall of Science in 1979. Its various alignments allow such observations as finding Polaris the North Star, or seeing the Sun at the equinoxes and solstices.

William Knox Holt Planetarium
The center of the astronomy activities is the William Knox Holt planetarium, a 45-seat geodesic dome with a full dome projection system. Many planetaria these days are no more than round movie theaters, showing films about astronomy, but also other topics. The Lawrence Hall of Science still uses live, interactive programs and are proud of getting the audience to participate. “Questions and exploration are encouraged!” they say.

The program changes from time to time. Here are three shows that were in the planetarium in May 2017. (There's a link in the Bellaonline Astronomy Forum to current programming.)

Imagine the Sky Tonight
I'm delighted to see that this show is a regular feature. It introduces the audience to the night sky and how to navigate it, finding constellations and stars and planets.

Solar Eclipse – 2017
There's lots of excitement in the USA about August 2017 when a solar eclipse sweeps across North America. Weather permitting, it's visible as either a total or partial eclipse almost everywhere on the continent. The planetarium has prepared a preview of the event Solar Eclipse – 2017.

Investigating Jupiter – Then and Now
Jupiter is a bright object that's been known for thousands of years. But it was a revelation when Galileo used a telescope to study it. Even with his primitive telescope he could see some details on the planet and he also discovered that it had moons. It was an amazing discovery in the early seventeenth century. There's been a lot of progress since then. In 2017 NASA's Juno spacecraft has been seeing Jupiter up close.

Ernest O. Lawrence Memorial
There is an exhibition about the life and research of the man for whom the Hall of Science was named. Particle physics and astronomy are different disciplines. Yet an understanding of particle physics has been essential to some areas of astrophysics.

In addition to his research Lawrence was a great advocate of science education and what we would today call public outreach. The entire center is a memorial to him, but there's also a special display that includes a biographical film and a replica of his Nobel Prize. The original medal used to be there, but it was stolen in 2007. Although the gold medal was recovered, it seemed safer to replace it in the display with a replica.

Photo credit: The view of the LHS and San Francisco Bay in the "Stargazing" section was taken by Nicole Medina

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