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by Mr. Gary Duranko, OHA Math & Science Teacher

The Oak Hill Academy Astronomy Club attended *Tri*Star* (Triad Starfest) 2019 at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, NC, on March 2. It was an all-day event centered on speakers, astronomy-related displays, an astrophotography competition, prize drawings, daytime and nighttime observing sessions, and a swap meet where amateurs could buy and sell equipment.

Artist’s rendering of Proxima Centauri superflare. (Image: © Roberto Molar Candanosa/Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL)

Our group attended the day’s first presentation, given by high school student Mike Puzio, about the NASA probe OSIRIS-REx and its arrival at asteroid Bennu. Some years ago, Puzio won a contest to name the asteroid, and as a result has become the “ambassador” for this probe, which will rendezvous with Bennu next year and return a sample to be analyzed in 2020.

Next we attended a talk about superflares occurring on Proxima Centauri (the star closest to the sun), and their effect on the exoplanet Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri. When a star “superflares,” explosions send very powerful winds of hot plasma at all the planets in its solar system. This wind can destroy atmospheres and ultimately affect the possibility of life on these planets. We learned that chances are good that Proxima b’s atmosphere will be destroyed, which unfortunately means that probably no life exists on this planet.

OHA Astronomy Club members Delaney, Evan, Tyler, Stephanie and Lauren

After lunch at a local restaurant, we inquired about taking a tour of the Cline Observatory on campus, and were lucky to be shown around by Aaron Martin, the professor that founded the observatory and served as its director before his retirement from GTCC. He gave a wonderful private talk to our group. He also turned the dome and opened the shutter, much to our delight!

Finally, we attended a talk by Dr. Stella Kafka, the director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). This organization oversees the collection of data submitted by amateurs about the brightness of variable stars. OHA intends to contribute to this organization’s data using our new observatory!

OHA participant Delaney Heard ’20 remarked that “this trip was a great experience for me. I was able to hear from another student similar to my age talk about an asteroid that he actually named, and I learned about Proxima b not being inhabitable because of superflares. I also enjoyed the tour of the observatory on the GTCC campus and learning from its founder.”

For information about what Mr. Duranko’s classes are up to, visit his Observatory Blog.