J.P. Nogues ’02 has always been fascinated by the stars. For three consecutive Halloweens he dressed up as an astronaut — his dream occupation since he was five years old. The first book he ever read was “Astronomy Today,” by Dinah L. Moche. But when Nogues started high school, astronomy took a back seat.
There were no astronomy classes at his school, so Nogues focused on literature. In fact, he entered Yale as a prospective English major. But he took an introductory course in cosmology and was hooked once again on his childhood passion.
In late September, Nogues and six other students formed the Society for Telescopes and Astronomical Research and Recreation as a way to get other Yalies passionate about the cosmos. STARRY began holding observation sessions on Cross Campus in January, the next one being Thursday night. The group also plans to create outreach programs with local elementary schools.
“It’s a club for anyone who enjoys looking at the sky, not just for astronomy majors,” said Nogues, who is a staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.
The idea of an astronomy club actually evolved during the middle of last year when Jeff Kenney, the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Astronomy, suggested to academic advisee Danny Isquith ’02 that there ought to be an extracurricular organization for astronomy enthusiasts.
“He told me that there hasn’t been an astronomy club at Yale for over 10 years,” said Isquith, the current STARRY president.
But Isquith, an astronomy major, was not the only one with stellar aspirations — some non-astronomy majors are also getting into the act. Lauren Kinnee ’02, an art history major, and Jeff Wilbur ’02, a chemical engineering major, also helped organize STARRY.
“Jeff and I are both members of the New Haven Astronomical Society,” Kinnee said, “but without cars it’s difficult to attend a lot of their events. — We wanted a place closer to campus to look at the stars.”
With the help of Dave Goldberg, an associate professor of astronomy, Kinnee and Wilbur got in touch with Isquith and others and STARRY was born.
In his role as faculty advisor, Goldberg primarily serves as a liaison between STARRY and the Department of Astronomy.
“Basically, my job is to ask the department for money,” Goldberg said.
At first, STARRY’s primary focus was to assist in the Astronomy Department’s regular Thursday night observing sessions on Science Hill. Nogues said the group quickly got the idea that holding its own observing sessions closer to the center of campus would draw more of a crowd.
“Science Hill is all the way up there, and we’re all the way down here,” Nogues said. “We definitely see more students at Cross Campus sessions than we ever did at the observatory on Science Hill.”
Isquith said his goal is to make astronomy appeal to all students, especially those turned off by the physics and mathematics involved.
“I got interested in astronomy when my dad took me up to Kit Peak in Tucson, Ariz., and pointed out stars, constellations and planets,” Isquith said. “I want everybody to be able to enjoy the sky on this fundamental level.”