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Spectacle in the sky gets community talking

Students, professors and families of all ages lined the stairwells of Gallalee Hall on Monday night, slowly making their way to the rooftop’s observatory. An 8 p.m. prediction of the Supermoon made local and state news, drawing over 200 people from around the community to UA’s campus.

It was nine-year-old Carla Garrett’s second time at Gallalee. Even among the cluster of older and taller men and women, Garrett stood out; unable to contain her excitement, the girl began to jump up and down and swing her arms back and forth, stopping to remember her last visit.

“I saw the red moon last year!” she said, jumping again. “You know… the moon can change colors because of crystals in the sky…”

Garrett was halfway into the third grade, and school had not yet stifled her imagination. She recited what she had learned in her science class, concluding that this time, the moon must also look “pretty unique,” like a “half-circle.”

The Supermoon is in fact unique; the last one happened 48 years ago. As for the “half-circle,” Dr. Jeremy Bailin, an astronomy professor hosting the event, would say otherwise – the Supermoon is a phenomenon that occurs when the moon is full and also closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit. What results is a slightly bigger, slightly brighter-looking moon.

“I personally find [the name] a little bit silly,” Bailin said, noting that it’s difficult to see a significant difference in the luminosity or size of Monday night’s moon without anything to compare it to.

“...It’s still a fun opportunity to get people up here looking at the moon, though,” he said. “The thing that I love about astronomy is that it is such a human endeavor… everyone, in every society, has looked up at the sky and wondered what’s up there… it’s awe-inspiring.”

“Fascinated” by the breadth of knowledge of UA’s professors, Dr. Emmett Cooper, a Christian writer and founder of a faith-based non-profit organization, made his first trip from Birmingham to campus. For him, science and spirituality were linked by the similar “awe-inspiring” vastness of what he did not know.

His son Clayton Cooper looked back at the winding line behind them, encouraged by the public discourse that had begun, and said that the university has “a lot of potential” to serve not only its students, but the surrounding area.

“This is allowing us access to good information,” he said. “I think that’s incredibly helpful and beneficial to the community.”

At this remark, Garrett weaved her way into the Coopers’ conversation, still jumping as the group inched their way up the stairs.

Ahead of the line, at the entrance to the rooftop, stood sophomore Rebecca Goodrich. Although she had come the event primarily to receive extra credit for an astronomy class, Goodrich said that she, too, was fascinated by the wonderment of space.

“I’m a diver,” she said. “And for me, [astronomy] is kind of the same thing. You’re exploring a world that no one else sees.”

She sparked a conversation with a graduate student next to her, showing him pictures of her diving in the waters of Puerto Rico and Nicaragua.

The line progressed, and several conversations and exchanged numbers later, Goodrich and her friend, the Coopers and the Garrett family made their way up to the dome, peered into the mirrored lens of the 16-inch telescope, and were reminded once again of what they spent hours waiting for.

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