Downtown Washington may be awash with light pollution, but the stars came out last night for an evening of stargazing on the White House South Lawn.
President Obama and his wife, Michelle, greeted a crowd of about 150 middle-school students who'd come to take part in the first-ever White House Star Party. Helping them out were current and former astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, John Grunsfeld, and Mae Jamieson; presidential science adviser John Holdren; and NASA administrator Charles Bolden. That's some guest list!
The president is pressing for dramatic improvement in the quality of U.S. science and math education, and he's now twice urged the nation's youth directly to study hard and reach for the stars. In his opening remarks, the president challenged the assembled students to strive for greatness. "What will your great discovery be?" he asked. "Galileo changed the world when he pointed his telescope to the sky. Now it's your turn."
Standing at President Obama's side were two teenagers who've already made a difference: 14-year-old Caroline Moore, who last year became the youngest person to discover a supernova; and high-school sophomore Lucas Bolyard, who discovered a pulsar in archived radio-telescope observations.
Eight months in planning, the White House Star Party came just in time to jump start two of the International Year of Astronomy's key events: the "Great World-Wide Star Count" (October 9-23) and "Galilean Nights" (October 22-24).
You can watch President Obama's opening statement — and take a quick peek at the Double-Double in Lyra through a Celestron 8-inch telescope — on YouTube.