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California Calling: Las Cumbres Observatory Event

Las Cumbres Observatory AD Event

It’s now almost three months since Asteroid Day 2017, yet there are still fascinating stories from various regional events reaching us. Today, I would like to share one particular one from the Asteroid Day Event at Las Cumbres Observatory in Goleta, California. The observatory held an open house in the evening where visitors could meet scientists and engineers, tour the facility, and get their hands on a piece of a real asteroid – literally! They managed to attract between 150 and 200 people, some of them coming from as far as 2 hours away. Serious dedication there! Among the visitors was British record-setting balloonist and 100x signee Julian Nott who lives in nearby Santa Barbara. Julian Nott is currently actively involved in developing balloons for exploration flights at solar system destinations, particularly Venus and the Saturn moon Titan, as “Flying Mars Rovers”.

Las Cumbres Observatory Asteroid Cake

Open House at Las Cumbres Observatory

The entire open house took place in a casual atmosphere: While watching presentations on the Las Cumbres Observatory and its work in the lobby, visitors were served food and beverages, the night being topped of with a very spacial asteroid cake that proved highly popular. (Asteroid Day Global can confirm the popularity of asteroid cakes – the one we served to the panelists of the Asteroid Day LIVE broadcast was met with equal amazement, some astronauts even cheekily trying to break of pieces before the first slices were cut! Just in case you are still looking for ideas for your Asteroid Day 2018 event – asteroid cake might be the way of the future!)
After people were acquainted with the facility, it was time to move on to the scientific part of the evening. The observatory’s director, Dr. Todd Boroson, gave an introduction to their work and research before he, the observatory’s Director of Engineering Dr. Eric Saunders, and NEO scientist Dr. Tim Lister headed off with three tour groups. Visitors could then inspect the observatory’s domed 1-meter telescope, learn about asteroids in another talk in Las Cumbres’ conference room, and take a photo opportunity in a “photobooth” set up just for this occasion with 2 meteorites from Australia and Texas.

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(Video: Dr. Tim Lister speaking on the subject of Near-Earth Objects)

Julian Nott at Las Cumbres Observatory
100X Signee Julian Nott at Las Cumbres Observatory with one of the meteorites

Guessing Asteroids

A highlight of the entire event certainly was the meteorite competition. In it, participants could guess the weight of each of the Australian and Texan meteorite, the closest guesses winning a Las Cumbres Observatory t-shirt. Overall, 111 guesses were submitted, the winners coming very close to the actual weight: For the Australian meteorite at 29.3 lbs, the winner guessed it at 28.3 lbs, while the best Texan guess almost got a perfect score, guessing it at only 0.2 lbs less than its actual 13.4 lbs. Asteroid Day Global certainly applauds that feat! But even for those who didn’t win, being able to hold a real meteorite in their own hands was a very special experience for them. After all, it isn’t every day that you get to touch a piece of rock that is several thousands of years old and travelled millions of miles through space before ending its journey here on Earth.

At the end of the official programme, visitors were free to roam the observatory, talk to the staff and ask questions. One visitor even brought a rock that his father had given him that they believed was a piece of an actual asteroid.

Best Practice

One aspect of the Las Cumbres Observatory Asteroid Day event can certainly easily be implemented as a best practice for other Asteroid Day event organisers: Visitors could read about the different speakers’ bios on the observatory’s website to prepare for the event and were asked to sign up for a newsletter. This allowed the organisers to e-mail them follow-up information about the evening in its aftermath and advertise other, similar events that might be of interest. Thus, Asteroid Day also worked to build a network of people interested in science and space that the observatory can rely on to further promote its own activities beyond Asteroid Day.

There you have it! Reading about one of the events taking place in California should have certainly given you an idea for your own Asteroid Day event in 2018. More ideas and inspirations can be found in our Event Guide section. We’ve collected a few stories from other events as well: Copenhagen, Malmö, Santiago de Chile, and London. If this has gotten you interested, don’t forget to register you own Asteroid Day event for next year here!

Additional photos of the Las Cumbres Observatory Asteroid Day event can be found on their facebook page.

Pol Felten

The author Pol Felten

Pol Felten is the Communications Manager of Asteroid Day Global. He works from the Luxembourg office.