/stories/2019/03/in-search-of-hidden-worlds

In search of hidden worlds

Students traveled to Iceland for spring break to get close to the Arctic Circle and observe the northern lights in person. Photo courtesy UAstronomy Club

By Ashley A. Williams

Students traveled to Iceland for spring break to get close to the Arctic Circle and observe the northern lights in person. Photo courtesy UAstronomy Club

In search of hidden worlds

By Ashley A. Williams
Every other Sunday evening, the Foote University Green is transformed into a makeshift observatory by a dedicated group of students. They are the Astronomy Club.

This small, tight-knit community for space lovers prefers to keep things simple.

They pride themselves on being a “dues-free” organization. Their get-togethers are chill. The Astronomy Club, known as UAstronomy, provides like-minded students an opportunity to observe planets, stars, and near Earth objects in a relaxed, student-run environment.

Like many, Natalia Rovira, the club’s president, is attracted to the cosmos. She learned about the club after enrolling at the University of Miami, and she jumped at the opportunity to sign up for their email list.

“I was able to make the second meeting and coincidently, they were holding elections that night,” the journalism and ecosystem science and policy double major said. “The moment I walked through the doors, everyone was so welcoming and cool. I really wanted to be a part of this.”

Rovira and her fellow club members would do just about anything to get a glimpse of some of the most iconic sites the universe has to offer. The dancing lights of the aurora borealis in Iceland are one of them. In 2018 the club traveled to the Nordic island nation for spring break to get close to the Arctic Circle and observe the northern lights in person.

Images from their visit are part of an exhibit now on display in the Learning Commons at the Otto G. Richter Library on the Coral Gables campus. Ferðalangurinn í Íslandi: Images from a Journey through Iceland, include photographs by Sihan Chen, the club’s vice president, who worked with Edwin Gilmore, senior audio visual technician in the creative studio in the Learning Commons, to bring the exhibition to fruition.Students in Iceland posing together near Arctic Circle.

“Sihan is a regular in our studio space,” said Gilmore. “I heard about his trip and when he showed me the images, I just thought like wow. They are so beautiful and I thought about displaying them. He was unaware of the process and I presented him the idea.”

The club members do extraordinary things to feed their passion for astronomy. They drove nine hours to observe a total lunar eclipse in Newberry, South Carolina, on the first day of classes in August 2017. Member Alex Berne invested his own money to upgrade the club’s telescope to a Celestron NexStar computerized model.

“I couldn’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime,” Chen, an international student from Shenzhen, China, said of the trip to South Carolina. “It was fantastic. This club is the only club that I am still a part of. It means that much to me and I’ve built so many connections through it.”

Berne, a senior whose role in the club is Sky Watcher, is an original member of the club and is responsible for keeping track of what’s going on in space and reporting back to the club every meeting.

His selfless contribution has given members like Rovira the chance to observe planets in a way they have never before.

“I was brought to tears the first time I saw Saturn through the telescope,” she said. “I’ll never forget that moment.”

Next up for UAstronomy? The club is hoping to raise funds for a trip to Chile to view the next total solar eclipse in July.

“This club has really allowed me to establish an identity for myself here at the U,” said Rovira. “I don’t want to change much about it. It’s so cool already. Everyone has been so welcoming and I am really happy to be president of this hidden gem.”

The Creative Studio (formerly known as the Digital Media Lab) is located in Room 118 for the first floor of the Otto G. Richter Library at the Coral Gables campus. For more information about the Ferðalangurinn í Íslandi exhibit visit the club’s Facebook page.