Columbia's Rooftop Variables program sparks love for astronomy


For seven years now, Columbia University has helped young students reach for the stars and planets.

Columbia graduate students work alongside more than a dozen teachers in the five boroughs and Westchester, teaching high school and middle school students through a program called Rooftop Variables. This program gives young students an opportunity to look into space, with experts to show them the way.

With astronomy being a great gateway into the sciences for young kids, Columbia decided to loan 6-inch Celestron telescopes to the participating schools. According to the school teachers in the field, the planets are the main draw. Being able to see the rings of Saturn is awe-inspiring for these kids, and another big draw is the moon, which has fascinated humans throughout history. Now, these kids get to see all of its intricate detail.

Marcel Ageros, an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia, founded the program during his post-doctoral fellowship. The National Science Foundation-funded fellowship required him to spend time on public outreach. Working with other graduate students and teachers, he came up with Rooftop Variables and submitted the idea to NASA. NASA, as well as the New York Space Grant Consortium, provided support.

“Rooftop Variables is based on the belief that we can help broaden the sciences by investing in communities that are typically underexposed to research,” Ageros said.

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