Each year TJC’s Center for Earth and Space Science Education hosts their Fall Astronomy Lecture, which is open to students and the public.

In addition to lectures and videos, they also team up with the Astronomical Society of East Texas to host ‘Star Parties’ where astrophysicists and enthusiasts come together to show off their telescopes and the night sky. The equipment ranges from home made to high end, but the students and community members get to enjoy a wide array of views while learning how each works. In addition, the planetarium plays a video of all the views to be found throughout the year in the East Texas night sky.

The lecture series began Sept. 8, when Dr. Tom Hooten, TJC physics professor and director of the CESSE planetarium told, “The Story of the Big Bang.” Hooten, wearing a sports coat and a “Big Bang Theory” TV show T-shirt, combined humor and astrophysics to explain what the big bang was and clear up myths and misconceptions about it.

Oct. 5 Justin Parish’s presented “The Universe in a Meter.” Parish, assistant director of CESSE, used the planetarium’s domed theatre to take the audience on a tour of the universe using only a simple yard as a point of reference.

The lectures then moved on to what some media outlets have referred to as the comet of the century. On Nov. 2 Astronomy Professor Doug Parsons gave the audience insight into what they could realistically expect from the comet. He then made an actual model of a comet using every day items, combining them in a garbage bag with dry ice, which would produce a reasonable facsimile of the average comet. Like the average comet, Parsons noted that the chances of his model crumbling and fizzing out were about 50-50.

Capping the lecture series off, CESSE invited the religious community to join them for a weekend of good-spirited debate. Saturday Nov. 23, special guest speaker and renowned author of “America’s Creation-Evolution Controversy,” Dr. Karl Giberson came to speak. According to the accompanying press release, Giberson is the author or co-author of nine books, including, “Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and believe in Evolution.”

Sunday night saw an interfaith panel moderated by Biology Professor, Dr. Betsy Ott. Ott’s panel included; Rabbi Neal Katz, of Congregation Beth El in Tyler; Father Tim Kelly, of Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Flint; Anwar Khalifa, member of the East Texas Islamic Society; and Dr. Karl Giberson, a protestant Christian and professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. , as listed by the same press release from TJC and CESSE.

From 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. the panel discussed how their varying faiths all come from Abrahamic backgrounds and that they, as leaders of their respective congregations, found that science did not necessarily conflict with religion. When prompted by Ott, all agreed that there is no real war between science and religion. If anything, a simple lack of understanding exists. Imam Khalifa pointed out that Islam has always held the sciences in high regard and called the pursuit of knowledge a tenet of his faith.

After running late in their allotted timeslot, the panelists were kind enough to answer questions until the room had to be closed.

When asked how he would rate New Earth Creationism on a spectrum between silly and dangerous, Father Kelly recalled one of his mentors stating that it was “Pernicious, both silly and dangerous at the same time” if not handled correctly.

The nearly packed room had plenty of questions for the panelists and they attempted to accommodate them all as best they could. Over all, they displayed a unified sentiment that knowledge is one of God’s greatest gifts, no matter which religion you are.

While the Fall Astronomy Lecture series might have started with a bang, it definitely ended with a handshake that transcended traditional cultural barriers.

CESSE is still open throughout the holiday season, playing a special Christmas themed movie in the planetarium, “Mystery of the Christmas Star” and a special Space Art Exhibit, which runs through Jan. 5.

CESSE is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday of each week. For showtimes and holiday hours, see http://www.tjc.edu/cesse/shows.

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