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Popular stargazing event returns to U.C. Berkeley

Popular stargazing event returns to U.C. Berkeley
By Laila Weir - Published on April 01, 2022.

It's another milestone in the transition to the "living with the virus" stage of pandemic life, albeit a niche one. East Bay fans of astronomy, stargazing, and the search for extraterrestrial life will be excited to learn that U.C. Berkeley's popular Astro Night event is returning after a pandemic-induced hiatus. The seasonal series will resume April 7 with a talk on "Life on other planets," following by rooftop stargazing, the university's astronomy department said.

In the past, the public event has drawn crowds eager to look through the large telescope in the department's roof-top observatory — and to hear talks that generally revolve around the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe. The talk and stargazing take place in (and on) the astronomy building, which is near the Campanile on the U.C. Berkeley campus, affording striking views not just of celestial bodies but also of the iconic tower lit up at night.

Astronomer Dr. Guy Nir will deliver the April 7 talk to open this year's series. According to the event description, Nir's presentation will "take a walk on the line between science and science fiction" to examine questions like: "Is there life on other planets in the Solar System, or in the Galaxy? Is life a common occurrence or a rare miracle? Would we ever find intelligent life anywhere in the Universe?"

"A few decades ago, life on other planets was considered science fiction," the description reads. "For decades, science had only speculations on all these open questions. With recent developments both in exploring the history of life on Earth and discoveries of other worlds in the Galaxy, the answers to these existential questions seems closer than ever." 

The April 7 talk begins at 7:30 p.m. (Astro Night start times vary from month to month as dusk falls at different times), but doors open 30 minutes before and the lecture is first-come, first-served. Past events have been known to fil to the point of standing room only. Note that the science lecture is aimed at a high-school level audience, though children are welcomed.

At 8:30 p.m., the rooftop will be open, weather permitting, and attendees can take turns looking through numerous telescopes, including the 17-inch telescope inside the dome-shaped observatory. Members of the department will be on hand to guide the viewings and answer questions. Be prepared for lines.

Astro Night takes place on the first Thursday of the month during the stargazing season, subject to weather. The event is free and open to the public. 

Event Details: April 7, 7:30-10 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.) in Campbell Hall, located on Hearst Mining Circle on the east side of the Berkeley campus. Schedule: Public talk: "Life on other planets" by Guy Nir, 7:30-8:30 p.m. in room 131 on the first floor; stargazing (weather dependent) on the roof, 8:30-10 p.m. Note that parking on campus requires special permits. Street parking around campus is free after 6 p.m.; the closest public garage is at Hearst and Euclid. Allow time to walk to the astronomy building.