Families Venture to the Stars Above

Jorja Gwaltney/The Avion Newspaper
John Friedman demonstrates the creation of gravitational waves to the family-filled audience.

Vanessa Burkett/Correspondent

Friday evening began with the Space Odyssey, a most fitting song for the night’s events. The crowd watched eagerly as two men took the front of the auditorium in the Willie Miller Instruction Center. Both older gentlemen, one, wearing a cowboy hat with a blue polo shirt followed by the other in all black, from his blazer down to his black dress shoes. The gentlemen in the cowboy hat took the mic. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 16th annual Gravitation Lecture featuring John Friedman!” Applause filled the room as the man in black acknowledged the audience, setting the tone for an already exciting evening.

Two spiraling objects displayed on the screen as John Friedman smiled at the audience. He told the spectators in the crowd about a phenomenon that happened 130 million years ago, “in a galaxy far away.” Two stars, each with densities massive as a ton per teaspoon, orbited around each other and lost energy to gravitational waves. Because they lost energy, they spiraled into each other until they merged. Due to the energy they created in merging, a jet shot out from this spiral, emitting energy in gravitational waves. The power was greater than all the other stars in the universe; this out shined all of them combined.

What Friedman was describing was the effects of gravitational waves and the forming of neutron stars. This was only the beginning, as he demonstrated using a map, describing the moon being 1.3 light-seconds from earth. To get to the nearest star after the sun, Centauri, it would take us four light years.

Putting this into perspective, Friedman converted the distance of the moon to centimeters. “At 7 centimeters, the Centauri star would be 7000 kilometers.” On his map, he showed that it was equivalent to the distance from Daytona Beach, to London! Friedman never skipped a beat as he enlightened the audience on everything from discovery and history, to the fantastic beyond in which we live.  His interactive videos, quick humor, and simplicity of which he explained this cosmic wonder left the audience in awe.

Upon completion of his lecture, families of students traveled to the college of arts and science, where they saw Embry-Riddle staff and clubs truly shine. The first two floors were a science wonderland! There were interactive games on making a neutron star, to discussions on black holes and what they really were. There was a Reubens tube of fire that danced to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and various demonstrations on rockets and space plasma. The passion for research and excitement for space exploration emanated around every corner, but these were just the openers. The main event was on the 5th floor, where they allowed family members to gaze at the beauty of space through the largest telescope in Florida. The scattered clouds showed favor to the onlookers and revealed a clearing sky. The lens pointed to the stars in the Orion Nebula, where four stars hovering close together were clear to see. These, the students explained, were neutron stars: the very same phenomena discussed in Friedman’s lecture. It was remarkable gazing at the sky and seeing theories and histories of man come to life in this exciting event.

Everyone watched as the world of science became a whole lot bigger, more engaging, and entertaining. But most of all, they left with a little more knowledge about the universe and
what makes Embry-Riddle the best school for space exploration, research, and discovery.