Astronomy On Tap

Tavern hosting interactive discussion on all things cosmos

Science and Travel Writer Alyssa Grace

Graphics courtesy of Sylvia Kowalski

Astronomy on tap

A new event is coming to Hilo on February 22 at the Hilo Town Tavern. Astronomy on Tap is a science outreach event practiced over 15 cities including some international. The event consists of four short Astronomy related talks by astronomers from Gemini Observatory, games, prizes and space themed drinks.

“We’ll have a space T-shirt contest!” Sylvia Kowalski, Public Information and Outreach Intern at Gemini Observatory and organizer of the event, said. “Wear your best space t-shirt! Nerdy is awesome. Puns are always appreciated,” Kowalski said. There will also be free astronomy themed face paint, prizes for people who ask questions and participate, and space trivia between each of the talks.

The talks to be presented are as follows with descriptions by Kowalski. Star Eating Monsters: Fact or Fiction? By Alison Peck. “Black holes are these wild things that have infinite mass but take up no space and you’re like this has to be fiction. They can eat things!” Kowalski said. “So [in the talk] we’re figuring out together what a black hole is and if it’s real and how we know that.”

A Celestial Shake ‘n Bake by Atsuko Nitta will be about the “seismology of stars,” Kowalski said. “I know the least about [this one] so I’m super excited to learn about [it]. It’s similar to if you had an earthquake on a star and what that would be like and what that might produce, but that’s my rough summary.”

Vanishing into the Darkness by Andre-Nicolas Chene is about “what happens when stars die,” Kowalski said. “There’s a lot of astronomy about when [stars are] shining and what we learn from them but what we’ll explore is what happens when they burn through all their fuel.” The lifespans and development of star can vary greatly depending on variables such as their size and location.

Tales from the Outer Solar System by Meg Schwamb, a co-founder of the very first Astronomy on Tap events will bring to light more distant objects of our own solar system than what we are taught in “common core Astronomy,” Kowalski said. “We often talk about the planets in our solar system and they’re all super cool but there’s fascinating stuff beyond the planets that helps us learn about the history of our solar system and our galaxy.”

With the current observatories on Maunakea and long-standing astronomy outreach programs in Hilo like Journey through the Universe on its 13th year now in 2017, it can be argued that most programs are aimed toward children. Bringing outreach to adults was one of the original goals of the group’s founders, including Schwamb.

“They created it because they saw a disconnect between the target age of outreach and the setting,” Kowalski said. “Usually the only outreach for adults is in a lecture about one topic that goes super in depth.” Astronomy on Tap on the other hand allows one to “go in depth just enough to get excited, and without it being long.”

As Schwamb puts it, Astronomy on Tap “is a very different dynamic. So I can talk about aliens or you can ask me about aliens! Where as you might not feel comfortable doing that in a lecture hall.”

“Anyone who is remotely interested in space, traveling in outer space, what's in the universe, fun alcoholic drinks, and/or bar games should come to this event!” Kowalski said. “A background in Astronomy is not needed at all but if you do [have one], you’ll also have a blast.” Right now, the event is being advertised as 21 and over but the real restrictions are ambiguous. “I know the tavern lets families in to eat before a certain time,” Kowalski said. “But let’s just say it’s 18 and over to be safe.”

“The purpose of the event is to provide accessible fun astronomy to the public that is in the public,” Kowalski said. “It’s a new way to learn. We all love learning. Learning while drinking is especially fun.”

“Astronomy is the gateway to STEM,” Schwamb said. “For a long time, humans have had this innate desire to understand the night sky and we’re the only species who spends our time trying to think about why we’re here or are we alone?” Astronomy may not be able to answer these just yet, but it “provides a range of answers from understanding planets to the beginning milliseconds of the creation of the universe,” Schwamb said.

The Astronomy on Tap in Hilo will be the first ever in all of Hawai’i. “Usually this event [in other cities] is every month or every quarter or semester if it’s involved with the school,” Kowalski said. “I’m really hoping the community will enjoy it and we can continue. Over the course of a few Astronomy on Taps, you’re gonna really learn a lot of astronomy. Each one is different. Which is why it’s great as a repeat event.”

Astronomy on Tap could inspire more outreach in various fields and sustain the bridge between science and the public in a casual and constant setting. “The idea of Astronomy on Tap is not original. There are lots of different event at pubs like Nerd Night, or Biology stuff,” Schwamb said. There are also similar short talk events held in cafes presumably for an even wider audience.

To learn more about Astronomy on Tap in Hilo, follow the group on Facebook at: