Students participate in a science fiction-themed Halloween costume contest at “The Big Banger” event, hosted by the New College Astronomy Club (photo by Patrick Laughrey)
Students participate in a science fiction-themed Halloween costume contest at “The Big Banger” event, hosted by the New College Astronomy Club (photo by Patrick Laughrey)

By Yasi Bahmanabadi

Crowds of stargazers gathered on New College’s bayfront campus on October 23, catching glimpses of Jupiter and Saturn, and reveling in a science fiction-themed Halloween costume contest—all hosted by the Astronomy Club.

About 135 people attended the Saturday evening event, known as “The Big Banger,” which began after the sunset.

“To quote Carl Sagan, ‘We’re made of star stuff,’ and it’s our origin,” said third-year physics student Corinne Hatley, who is co-president of the Club with statistics and applied mathematics thesis student Joshua Ingram. “I think the fascination with space and the universe is very universal.”

To grow this fascination among the campus population, Hatley and Ingram created the Club in January (it is now funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant).

The co-presidents and their Club members have since hosted stargazing parties for enthusiasts from New College, the Cross College Alliance and the greater Sarasota-Manatee community. The Club also takes New College students to the planetarium at The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton. In the spring, the Club plans to showcase a “Cosmic Wonders” speaker series with guests from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“Events like this are a great way for people to connect with one another, and to connect with the environment and the cosmos,” Hatley said. “It creates such a sense of wonder, and that’s something we lose when we get older, so it’s really cool to bring that feeling back for people.”

Ingram agrees.

“When I first started enjoying astronomy, I was in my teens. I have always wondered where I come from and how the universe works,” Ingram said. “So, I have always appreciated the constellations, the planets and looking at the moon. When I got to college, learning about how the universe works and sharing it with other people was so important to me.”

Sharing this appreciation of the sky was a key component of “The Big Banger” event. Astronomers like Howard Hochhalter, the planetarium manager at the Bishop Museum, was in attendance, as was a group of local deep sky observers. Though the sky was not as clear as expected that night, some planets and stars showed their beauty through the telescope lenses.

“We are able to look at Jupiter, some of the star clusters, Saturn and Andromeda Galaxy 31,” Ingram said.

The costume contest at the event also inspired awe (and the winnings included a Celestron Cometron 114AZ Telescope, a Celestron Firstscope Telescope, and a pair of Celestron Outland X Binoculars).

“We focused our efforts for the event this year on community engagement and STEM education. We received donations from NASA and Celestron, as well as support from the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to put this event on,” Ingram said. “In addition, the Astronomy Club is now funded by the Mellon Grant so we can put on more events for the community.”

The next event will be held on November 12—a field trip to the Bishop Museum with a private showing in the new planetarium.

“This Club is a great opportunity for New College students for several reasons. Telescopes can be pretty intimidating for first-time users (I’d never used one myself until we started the Club). So, we want to give students the opportunity to explore their curiosity about the universe by removing this barrier to entry,” Hatley said. “By working with Dr. Ruppeiner (professor of physics and astronomy at New College), the Bishop Museum and Celestron, we’ve been able to assemble a fantastic group of knowledgeable and friendly astronomers to help us teach New College students the fundamentals of stargazing.”

For more information on New College’s Astronomy Club, visit

Yasi Bahmanabadi is an intern in the Office of Communications & Marketing.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is a top-ranked public liberal arts college and the state’s Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in arts, humanities and sciences, a master’s degree program in applied data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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