Explore the moon with astronomer Davin Flateau at Glen Helen

By Brennan Burks

Photo: Crater formation Ptolemaeus will be visible through telescope from the Glen Feb. 4 photo: Jim Ferreira

Can you remember the first time you started looking at the moon? Really seeing and understanding it as a constant presence in the twilight and early morning of your everyday? Its silvery glow, sometimes fully ablaze, lighting up everything around you with an otherworldly radiance. Sometimes, it’s only quietly visible through a sheen of clouds, a luminous fingernail floating in a sea of darkness. But it’s always there, always waxing in or waning out of fullness, like a slowly beating nocturnal heart. Are these memories stuck in your childhood? In that time when discovery and wonderment guided your every step? If you have become desensitized to our solar partner and taken for granted the daily lunar presence—and importance—in your life, how do you reconnect and rekindle a celestial appreciation? For starters, you could attend the We’re Off, to the Moon! event at Glen Helen Ecology Institute on Feb. 4.

Part lecture, part Q&A, part gazing through a telescope, astronomer Davin Flateau will serve as tour guide for the evening. Flateau says wherever you are on the appreciation spectrum, “this is a great jumping off point, because we’re not looking and talking about some rare nebula or some constellation thousands of light-years away.” On the contrary, Flateau says, “this is our closest, most constant solar companion; it’s Earth’s only permanent natural satellite.” Flateau’s tour will take you through a discussion of the various hypotheses surrounding the formation of the moon (occurring upwards of four billion years ago); the history and future of human exploration; its solar importance to our everyday existence; and, of course, a guided, telescopic gaze at the beauty and complexity of the lunar surface.

As far as celestial tour guides go, this one has been around the galaxy more than once. Growing up in inner city Pittsburgh, heavy light-pollution covered Flateau’s view of the sky like a blanket for many years. But one day after school, he wandered into a local museum with a planetarium in one wing. He entered and, in many ways, never left. Soon after, he got his first astronomical job—at first giving exhibit tours, then moving onto planetarium laser shows (cue Pink Floyd), and eventually travelling around the country helping to open and establish new planetariums for wanderlust-filled towns. “I was fortunate that my growing love for astronomy coincided with an almost universal boom of planetariums in the ’90s,” Flateau says, “and the complete magic I felt in my first experiences with space, I was able to share and experience that in every tour and demonstration I gave.” But his own space exploration didn’t stop with planetarium demonstrations. He later received his bachelor of arts in physics, with an astrophysics concentration, from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science in planetary sciences from the University of Arizona. Research gigs at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and in Arizona, as well as a fellowship from the National Science Foundation soon followed.

Yet, that first sense of magic has never abandoned him. It is what keeps him looking up and what fuels his passion to educate others in the wonders of the world beyond Earth. “There’s more than constellations that people have heard about and looking at a full moon,” Flateau says. “So many people are used to getting their information, their experiences in abstract ways—from screens—that learning about and then gazing at, even through a modest telescope, objects much older and bigger and farther away from them, and they start to understand a real depth and color, an actual psychological phenomenon occurs.”

Flateau says that one requirement every person must bring to looking upon the heavens is curiosity. “When you’re curious,” he says, “your imagination combines with your sensual perception, and something powerful happens: you gain a new perspective on your life and the world around you.”

Nick Boutis, executive director of Glen Helen, confirms that the purpose of the event goes hand in hand with the mission of Glen Helen. “We want folks to experience the natural world, to learn about how natural systems work, to be inspired by the beauty, complexity, and fragility of nature,” he says. And Flateau’s event, like other nocturnally inspired programs at Glen Helen, invites visitors to experience a different side of the living world, often leading them to little gems of wonder. “I find these events both enlightening and grounding,” Boutis says, “enlightening because I always learn something that changes or informs my perspective of how the world works, grounding because it is a beautiful and powerful feeling to be out in nature at night, quietly observing the heavens, and gaining the perspective that comes with it.”

Whether you are a daily viewer of our orbital companion, or can’t remember the last time you really looked up, Feb. 4 is sure to offer something for everyone—that is if you’re up for a little magic and a fresh perspective.

We’re Off, to the Moon! takes place Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Glen Helen Ecology Institute, 405 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. The event is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. Tickets for the event are free for Glen Helen members and $5 for non-members. For tickets and more information, please call 937.767.1909 or visit GlenHelen.org.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Brennan Burks at BrennanBurks@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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