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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU’s Salon Discovery: Experience astronomy and learn legacy of Pluto discoverer

Heavenly bodies on the big screen, live dancing and special flavors of gelato are in store for participants at New Mexico State University’s next Salon Discovery event. The show titled “NMSU Astronomy: Clyde Tombaugh and Beyond” will share insights from NMSU astronomers about the science and mystery of planets and stars along with some history about the man who discovered Pluto.

Head and shoulders of a man
The late Clyde Tombaugh is shown here at NMSU in 1989. He died in 1997 at age 90. A small amount of Tombaugh’s ashes are on board the New Horizons spacecraft, which recently flew by Pluto at the outer reaches of the solar system. A film about him will be shown at the NMSU Salon Discovery event. (NMSU photo)
Head and shoulders of man with sun behind his shoulder
James McAteer, NMSU astronomy associate professor, will discuss his research about the sun at NMSU’s Salon Discovery event on Friday, Sept. 18 at the Atkinson Recital Hall. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)
Graphic design of Earth, Pluto and the moon
Art for Salon Discovery event designed by NMSU computer science and graphic design student Min Tan. Min Tan notes “The fictional image was designed in Photoshop from scratch, and the juxtaposition of the planets depicts the relationship between Earth and Pluto, in order to convey the theme of honoring Pluto’s discoverer — Clyde Tombaugh, and his legacy. The image is not an accurate representation of scale, done purposely, so as to further emphasize the event’s theme … as well as to catch viewers’ attention from far distances.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18 at the Atkinson Recital Hall with the NMSU Library’s slideshow and poster presentation of the digital collection of Tombaugh’s papers in the lobby followed by a video at 7:30 p.m. about Tombaugh and NMSU’s astronomy department in the theater.

“Clyde really helped to promote NMSU’s astronomy program as being competitive on a national level,” said James McAteer, astronomy associate professor and co-emcee of the Salon Discovery event. “The excitement he generated enabled us to expand into a department that really does include all areas of astrophysics research.”

The recent flight of the New Horizon space probe by Pluto has put the spotlight on Tombaugh, who discovered the planet in 1930 and who founded NMSU’s astronomy program. A small amount of Tombaugh's ashes is aboard the spacecraft, which recently flew by Pluto at the outer reaches of the solar system.

The goal of Salon Discovery is to share with members of the community the accomplishments of faculty, staff and students in diverse disciplines across the university in a way that is entertaining and informative. The project is spearheaded by psychology professor and associate dean Tim Ketelaar as well as other faculty members and is supported by NMSU’s Executive Vice President and Provost Dan Howard.

“Last year’s Salon Discovery was a wonderful success and I expect this year’s program to be every bit as engaging,” Howard said. “The timing of the program could not be better with the recent flyby of Pluto. I think people will be astonished by the sum of the work being done in the Department of Astronomy at NMSU, which is truly a world class academic department.”

The program will include a live discussion about Tombaugh and the history of NMSU’s astronomy program with astronomy professors McAteer and Nancy Chanover, who emcee the program and will be interviewed by Fred Martino, director of content at KRWG-TV and radio.

The sun will be the subject of McAteer’s discussion. “My research focuses on studying the magnetic energy created and stored on the sun and how this influences the solar system,” McAteer said. “This includes how large storms and explosions on the sun affect the Earth.”

The talks by both McAteer and Chanover will be followed by a question and answer session with the audience. The evening will include performances by NMSU’s contemporary dance theatre and flamenco program, concluding with a number by nationally recognized NMSU’s DanceSport Company.

The party will continue on NMSU’s Horseshoe with telescopes provided with help from NMSU’s astronomy department and Las Cruces Astronomical Society available for star and planet gazing (weather permitting) and gelato eating with four flavors of gelato/sorbet, including “Tang” inspired gelato to celebrate space exploration.

The after party may also include images projected in the big screen from NMSU’s Apache Point Observatory and possibly images of Pluto, depending on the weather.

Tickets available in advance or at the door are $10 for adults, $5 for NMSU faculty, staff and retirees. Teens and children 18 and under pay $3. NMSU students will be admitted free with an NMSU ID but students must pick up the tickets and supplies are limited. For information and tickets, call 575-646-1420 or visit the Pan American Center box office.