Date: September 23, 2011

Title: A Star Party With A Noisy Astronomer – An Interview With Nicole Gugliucci

Podcaster: Kylie Sturgess

Organization: Token Skeptic podcast


Description: During my fourth year working at Dragon*Con, I celebrated my first visit to the Atlanta Skeptics Star Party with Nicole Gugliucci. Nicole is a graduate student at the University of Virginia, who works at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and engages in hands-on outreach with elementary school children through a program called “Dark Skies, Bright Kids”. At a party where Nicole demonstrated models of exploding meteors and Dr Pamela Gay and Dr Phil Plait lectured, I conducted this interview for the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast.

Bio: Kylie Sturgess is a researcher of gender differences in paranormal beliefs and superstitious behaviors. She teaches Philosophy in Western Australia, writes for the online CSICOP column ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ and podcasts for the Token Skeptic podcast at

Sponsors: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast, at

This episode of “365 Days Of Astronomy” has also been sponsored anonymously and is dedicated to people who like to look up in the night sky and get goosebumps.


I’m Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast – and this year I got to party with noisy astronomers!

Before Dragon*Con 2011, I attended the Atlanta Skeptics Star Party, where I interviewed Nicole Gugliucci, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, who works at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Her studies involves low-frequency radio astronomy and how our observations of the most distant objects in the universe are affected by our own planet’s atmosphere.

She engages in hands-on outreach with elementary school children through a program called “Dark Skies, Bright Kids” – which she talks about on one of the four episodes she’s already produced for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. Nicole teaches, she bellydances and she is happy to talk about the universe with anyone who will listen. For today’s episode, you get to party with Nicole Gugliucci – a very noisy astronomer.

Kylie Sturgess: I’m here with Nicole Gugliucci at the Atlanta Star Party and it has been such an honor to attend fabulous lectures and to see outreach in action. Nicole, tell me about yourself – why are you the Noisy Astronomer?

Nicole Gugliucci: Two reasons. First of all, I do radio astronomy. It’s kind of a pun off radio astronomy because you have your signal, which is the stuff that you want to see, and your noise, which is the stuff that gets in the way of your signal. The noisy came from that and also because I grew up in New York and can be quite loud sometimes! I’m told to use my indoor voice occasionally, so, it’s kind of a double pun with that!

Kylie: New York and astronomy, how do those two go together? Being an Australian I am of the impression that New York has got quite lot of stars? In my mind I think immediately, “New York City?” but there’s a larger state around there?

Nicole: I grew up right near New York City, near Staten Island. As a result I’m a really bad optical astronomy. I owned a telescope when I was a kid and I tried really hard, but there was so much light pollution that I couldn’t see much. When I went to college I ended up getting hooked on radio astronomy, which is something completely different. We use these antennas to pick up radiation from, not stars all the time but different processes going on from hydrogen gas, from dying stars, from supernovae remnants. I’m looking for hydrogen in the very, very early universe, so I actually found my place in radio astronomy instead.

Kylie: How many Star Parties have you done? You’re very involved in outreach, aren’t you?

Nicole: Well, I am part of a group called “Dark Skies, Bright Kids” in central Virginia. We just had a Star Party two weeks ago where we also had clear skies, which was great! We had an open Star Party two weeks ago and in addition to that we’ve had several family nights. We get students in the astronomy club and their parents to come back, usually on a Friday evening and we take all our telescopes out and we have the Charleston Astronomical Society brings their telescopes; the Richmond Astronomical Society brought their telescopes, which was awesome! We run these events for the schools once or twice a semester and then the big one was two weeks ago, our first annual, hopefully, Star Party.

Kylie: Brilliant. I enjoy the ones that I go to at Curtin University in my town and they’re open for the public. What I notice is that the children get as enthusiastic as the adults. Or maybe it should be, “The adults get as enthusiastic as the children”…I can’t tell the difference! Do you feel the same way about it?

Nicole: Yes. Definitely. My favorite thing to do – we do public nights up at our observatory – is to put Saturn in the ten inch telescope. Because people come up to it and they’ve never… You see, most people see these gorgeous Hubble images? But what you actually see through a telescope is not this big colorful thing? Saturn looks like Saturn! People are like, “Did you put a sticker in there? Am I looking at a picture?” You’re like, “No, those are the photons coming from Saturn!” Yeah, people get really excited about that!

Kylie: What activity do you suggest people should get involved with to get people interested and intrigued by astronomy? Obviously a Star Party, it’s pointing the telescope at the sky. Is it Saturn that’s the big hook? Is the Moon just as enjoyable?

Nicole: The Moon, Saturn, globular star clusters, which Pamela Gay was just talking about! These massive conglomerations of stars that are so gorgeous. So yes, showing things from the night sky, but also what our group does is daytime activities with the kids: hands on activities, making comets, making meteor impact craters, rockets, of course! That stuff gets people interested in the science and it makes them more accessible. It shows kids that, “Hey, science is fun and something that you can understand.”

Kylie: Was it a similar kind of fun that you felt when you were growing up in New York and thought, “This is going to be my future career?”

Nicole: Yeah, definitely. I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, because I liked playing around with plants and dirt and my telescope and everything. I focused in on astronomy when I was about thirteen. Someone told me that you can do that for a living! I thought that was great! I saw the movie “Contact” and now I’m a radio astronomer. Look at that!

Kylie: From Earth to cosmic dirt, as it were. Isn’t that fantastic? Thank you very much for talking to me Nicole!

Nicole: Thank you Kylie.

You can read Nicole’s blog (and check out her astronomy podcasts) at This is Kylie Sturgess, of the Token Skeptic podcast, found at

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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