President Barack Obama hosted on Monday, Oct. 19, the second-ever White House Astronomy Night and highlighted the importance of inspiring more girls and boys with the wonder of science and space. The event brought together students, teachers, astronomers, engineers, scientists, and space enthusiasts for an evening of stargazing – a cherished hands-on learning activity. "I love astronomy night," the president said last night while addressing the crowd. "This is some of the most fun I have on this job."
As part of Astronomy Night, Obama is also announced new private-sector commitments to further his “Educate to Innovate” campaign to inspire and prepare more girls and boys – especially those from groups historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – to excel in the STEM fields.
Obama told dozens of students gathered on the South Lawn of the White House Monday night that they could be the ones participating in the first missions to Mars within the next two decades.
The president joined the attendees in stargazing through a high-powered telescope, holding genuine space artifacts and meeting the nation's top scientists and astronauts.
Standing on stage next to a spacesuit, Obama emphasized his administration's efforts in preparing more young people to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM. He announced a new set of private-sector commitments to further that goal, such as an initiative to create 100 STEM networks across the nation in five years, and supporting after-school and summer STEM programs for more than 500,000 students in dozens of states.
"America can do anything," the president declared. "We've just got to keep on encouraging every new generation to explore, and invent, and create and discover."
With the help of a high school senior, Obama peered at the moon through a large telescope, proclaiming the sight "spectacular."
In the third row, among the students, was Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texas boy who became an international celebrity after police investigated the clock he invented for a school project as a possible explosive device. Mohamed did not bring his clock, despite an invitation from Obama to do so.
But he did have an opportunity to meet the president briefly at the end of the event, despite earlier suggestions from the White House that such a meeting was unlikely. "After all, there are several hundred people who are planning to participate in tonight’s festivities on the South Lawn," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier Monday.
The first White House Astronomy Night occurred in October 2009, in conjunction with the International Year of Astronomy. That night President Obama and his wife, Michelle, greeted about 150 middle-school students and gave special attention to 14-year-old Caroline Moore, who had discovered a supernova the previous year, and high-school sophomore Lucas Bolyard, who discovered a pulsar in archived radio-telescope observations.
In conjunction with White House Astronomy Night, schools, museums, National Parks and other institutions from more than 35 states are organizing their own astronomy nights across the country, in more than 80 separate events. In locations as diverse as Baltimore, MD; Twin Falls, ID; Grand Canyon National Park; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and even a school on a NATO base in Europe, people are gathering to share the excitement of astronomy and explore the universe visible in their own backyards.