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Starry-Eyed Studies

stars photo
Three-year-old Fiona Brummer takes a wide-eyed peek at the night sky.     Photo: Will Kirk/HiPS

Ivelisse Cabrera brings the seriousness of a scholar, the warmth of a hostess, and the excitement of a child just discovering the stars to her job as technician at the Maryland Space Grant Observatory’s weekly open houses.

“Look there! It’s the Orion Nebula, and that twinkling star there is Orion’s belt,” she says on a Friday in late January, gesturing toward the large slice of night sky visible through the sliding door in the domed ceiling of the observatory, located in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on campus. “What you’re seeing are bright stars that are new. A star nursery, if you will. Wait until you see it through the telescope.”

The telescope in question is the Morris W. Offit Telescope, a half-meter Cassegrain instrument that sits in the center of the Stanley D. and Joan F. Greenblatt Dome like a gleaming white metal totem. An anonymous donor provided it to Johns Hopkins in honor of Offit, a past chairman of the Board of Trustees, and it’s been used since 1991 to help amateur and other star- and planet-gazers look heavenward.

Cabrera facilitates that gazing by moving the telescope around and by helping visitors identify and learn more about what they are seeing.

“My role is to be a teacher to those who want to learn, and a facilitator to those who already know what they want to see,” says Cabrera, 27, a first-year physics doctoral student in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy. “I love sharing my love for astronomy with other people.”

On a clear, warm Friday night in mid-January, those people included Hopkins students, several sets of parents with children, and a few amateur astronomers.

“I have a calendar with different constellations on it,” said 11-year-old Emily Jones, waiting in line with her friend, Peter Coe, to climb the metal staircase for a look into the telescope.

No one’s excitement could match that of 3-year-old Fiona Brummer, whose parents brought her to the open house so she could see which constellations were out for her recent birthday.

“We’ve been looking at books about the stars and planets, and we wanted her to see them for herself,” said her mother, Tanya Ajani, of Wyman Park.

It took three tries—peering into a telescope with one eye while closing the other is a learned skill, after all—but Fiona finally spied Saturn.

“I saw it!” she trilled.

–Lisa De Nike

 

 

SPRING/SUMMER 2006
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Rethinking Citizenship
In Search of Poetry

 

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